Veteran Footwear Executive Shares Secret to Creating Strong Team Atmosphere

Industry veteran Charles Liberge is president of Jones & Vining, a more than 80-year-old company that provides essential components to the footwear industry, such as lasts, inserts, midsoles and outsoles.

Here, the executive shares with FN some of the unique challenges of his business, and his philosophy on strong leadership.

My managerial style:
“Keeping all levels of the organization involved and informed leads to a higher level of commitment and creates a team atmosphere. I’ve always believed in a ‘sit them on your shoulder’ mentality — as a manager, work daily to teach your employees everything you’ve learned from your experiences, as well as listen and learn from them.”

Hardest part of my job:
“Continually tracking the ever-changing marketplace to ensure the team is always looking for what’s next and how to best to meet the needs of customers today and in the future.”

Experiences that best prepared me for my position:
“With over 35 years in the industry, beginning on a fitting stool at retail, I’ve been lucky enough to have touched every aspect of the footwear business. From design to development, marketing to sales, manufacturing to merchandising, finance and beyond, these experiences have allowed me to understand and affect any and all aspects of our company.”

My most important mentors:
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with — and learning from — some of our industry’s best, including Diane Sullivan, Jon Caplan, Meg Whitman, Michel Meynard and others. Their leadership and teaching capabilities have allowed me to have learning opportunities few in our industry have experienced. In addition, working with many startup companies over my career, in and out of the footwear industry, has allowed me to place perspective on the day-to-day challenges of building a brand.”

Best advice I ever received:
“Early in my life, my father taught me the importance of working hard, working smart and to never stop reaching for your goals. He also said, ‘Don’t ever forget how important family and others are to fulfilling your dreams.'”

Biggest challenge facing the industry today:
“An ever-changing retail environment places additional pressure on Tier 1 [factories] and Tier 2 materials and components suppliers to perform quicker, provide new product innovations and maintain high levels of quality at a price that’s market-competitive. As retail [increasingly] turns to online sales, fit and comfort become more important than ever. Brands must deliver consistency of product to the consumer.”

Five-year business plan:
“Innovation is the key. Our two newest introductions — PerfX, our breathable polyurethane insert material, and our Smart Last technology will drive business in 2018 and beyond. In addition, as the only components manufacturer of lasts, inserts, outsoles and midsoles in the footwear industry, we look to taking advantage of our strong relationships with brands as well as our manufacturing in Asia and the U.S.”

Highlight of my career:
“An aspect I’ve enjoyed the most is the challenge that comes with growth. Having the opportunity to be involved in such a wide variety of industries, working closely with experts from all aspects of business, having the ability to touch or be a part of any opportunity where you see potential for growth and the immense learning experience available, is remarkable.”

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