These 7 Young Executives Are Shaping the Footwear Industry’s Future

Two Ten Footwear Foundation’s new Associate Board comprises young leaders in the shoe industry who are determined to make a difference.

Seven of them sound off below on how they got their starts, the mentors who helped them and the importance of pushing the next generation to the forefront. 

And to hear more, don’t miss FN’s panel with members of the Two Ten Associate Board on Feb. 13 at 2 p.m., in the Camp/Bond Lounge during the FN Platform trade show in Las Vegas.

SVP of business development, BBC International LLC

On joining Two Ten: “My father, Bob Campbell, has been very involved in the organization, and I’ve seen it firsthand how it affects people in the industry. So [I got involved] to follow in my father’s footsteps and help the shoe community.”

My goals for the organization: “There are two goals. One is to raise as much money as possible and help as many people as we can. In addition, if we can get younger people to be part of this, that’s the second goal.”

Best advice I’ve received: “From my father — he says don’t sweat the small stuff. As it relates to business, Steve Madden told me something great: ‘Make shoes people want to buy.’”

Advice to industry newcomers: “Be passionate; care about what you do.”

Biggest challenge: “What I face on a daily basis, and that’s to sometimes sit back and listen to others and be more open.”

My start in the footwear industry: “My first entry was at 13 years old when I was living in a factory in China for a summer and watching from start to finish on how a shoe gets made.”

My mentors: “My father, [H.H. Brown CEO] Jim Issler and [BBC executive] Al Kishfy.”

On championing the next generation: “We need to constantly present and be in front of them with new concepts and ideas.”

Jori Miller Minnetonka
Jori Miller
CREDIT: Kyle Hilton

VP of product development, Minnetonka Moccasin Co.

On joining Two Ten: “I wanted to contribute to an amazing resource our industry has built and form stronger connections with my peers.”

My goals for the organization: “To help this new associate board become a long-term pillar of Two Ten. A big part of that mission is to increase geographical and generational awareness of Two Ten.”

Best advice I’ve received: “One piece of advice I always go back to is to speak concisely. It forces you to be organized with your thoughts, which makes for a stronger position.”

Advice to industry newcomers: “Constantly shop the market — in the digital world and in the real world.”

Biggest change I’ve seen in the industry: “The retail industry is going through so many changes, and we must try to keep up or even lead with positive changes ourselves.”

Biggest challenge: “As a new mom, the biggest challenge was that my son took seven months to start sleeping through the night. I’m still not sure how I got through it. I already blocked it out.”

My start in the footwear industry: “I worked at the shoe floor at Nordstrom.”

On mentors: “I’m surrounded by a real entrepreneurial spirit throughout my extended family, so I’m fortunate to gain a variety of perspectives from many different types of businesses. I also have an amazing network of female friends who challenge me and provide advice and support.”

On championing the next generation: “We want to find ways to educate the next generation about the foundation of the footwear industry — the history, the heritage — while tapping into the new, fresh perspective that a next generation can bring.”

Mark Higgins Deer Stags
Mark Higgins
CREDIT: Kyle Hilton

Senior director of digital business development, Deer Stags Concepts Inc.

Biggest goal for Two Ten: “To find ways to educate and engage the 300,000-plus people in the footwear industry — and to let them know there is support and that they don’t have to deal with these issues alone. We must continue to make everyone aware and engage them to use the resources available to them, should they ever need them.”

Best advice I’ve received: “Never be afraid to fail. I have adopted the mentality of ‘fail fast,’ which are words from Roger Rawlins, CEO of DSW.”

Advice to industry newcomers: “Be a student of the business and don’t take anything for granted. Talk with your co-workers and your retail and wholesale partners, as you will learn a great deal about how things work. Get out to stores, and comp-shop online to see what others are doing to win the customer.”

Biggest change in footwear: “Customer expectations. The customer is always right, and if they want to shop via desktop, tablet, mobile, in a physical store, we have to make it a seamless experience. If they want two-day shipping and don’t want to pay for it, we must figure out how to accomplish that.”

My start in the footwear industry: “I had been in retail for about 10 years at Kohl’s Department Stores’ corporate office. I had been approached to become the first dedicated Kohls.com buyer and assumed the categories of footwear, women’s accessories, Jr. apparel and jewelry/watches.”

My mentors: “Danny Muskat, my boss at Deer Stags. We have had a working relationship for about nine years, and I have always been comfortable asking questions, sharing philosophies with him and running ideas past him. [Also], Carol Baiocchi, whom I looked to for guidance [when were both at Kohl’s] — and still do. Roger would be another person who has inspired me.”

On championing the next generation: “I believe the role of the individuals who have been in this industry for a while is to take the time to share past experiences and insight with the next generation.”

Sarah Bloch NPD
Sarah Bloch
CREDIT: Kyle Hilton

Executive director of fashion footwear & accessories, The NPD Group Inc.

On joining Two Ten: “Even with a fulfilling home and work life, I still felt something was missing. So I began to focus on balancing my time to get involved in something charitable. Being part of the Two Ten Associate Board is giving me the opportunity to give back, while simultaneously connecting me with my professional
community that is made up of colleagues and friends.”

Best advice I’ve received: “My grandfather used to say, ‘If you can’t get in the front door, try the back. If the back door is locked, climb in a window.’ Those who have worked with me know I’m very scrappy.”

Advice to industry newcomers: “Find what you are good at, and take note of what drives you and makes you feel invigorated. Incorporating these elements into your job brings a level of happiness and passion to your work that carries over to other areas of your life.”

On the biggest change in the industry: “Online has been the biggest change I’ve seen, by far — specifically Amazon. It has changed the way we shop, search for products, and changed our expectations, particularly related to timing.”

Biggest challenge: “Trying to be the best at home and at work is a real struggle for many women, and one I’m still working to overcome. I’m learning that I am not always going to be the best, but as long as I’m trying my best, that can be enough.”

My mentors: “One that stands out is Larry Tarica [former owner and president of Jimlar], who has not only been an incredible mentor but also a friend to me.”

On championing the next generation: “The leaders in this industry could spend more time sharing their expertise and experience. We have so many leaders with a wealth of knowledge that isn’t being tapped into. We need to be open to learning from the next generation.”

Jake Schwartz Schwartz & Benjamin
Jake Schwartz
CREDIT: Kyle Hilton

Brand manager, Schwartz & Benjamin

On joining Two Ten: “Ever since I found out about all of the amazing things Two Ten does for those in need, I’ve wanted to lend a hand. I had previously been involved in the young professionals for Two Ten and have been looking for more impactful ways to stay involved.”

Biggest goal within Two Ten: “To expand our reach. ‘Awareness’ is a key term we bring up in every meeting we have. There are so many people in this industry, many who could use the help of Two Ten, and yet there are too few who know about it.”

Best advice I’ve received: “At the end of the day, they are just shoes.”

Advice to industry newcomers: “Don’t burn bridges. One of the greatest strengths of the footwear industry is the people in it. Oftentimes you may find yourself working with the very same people in your next opportunity as you
are working with now. The circumstances may change, but the relationships you build help you throughout your career, sometimes when you least expect it.”

My start in the footwear industry: “I came into the footwear industry with a family pedigree: I’m fourth-generation in the Schwartz & Benjamin shoe world. But technically, I got my start with Billy Lawson at Shoe Inn working in the stockroom in the summer of 2004.”

My mentors: “My parents, Barbara and Danny, who worked together building the Schwartz & Benjamin business to new heights for many, many years and still made it to every major or minor event in my life. My grandfather Arthur, who gave Schwartz & Benjamin an identity and pioneered the licensing business model.”

On championing the next generation: “The younger generation in the footwear industry will succeed with the help of great management who can nurture talent, offer true training and recognize the many inventive ideas with new perspectives that many bright newcomers offer.”

Kathy Forstadt Zappos
Kathy Forstadt
CREDIT: Kyle Hilton

Lead buyer, Zappos Merchandising Inc.

On joining Two Ten: “The Two Ten Associate Board is the next generation of footwear industry leaders building awareness and connecting those in need. This is a great opportunity to be able to build relationships outside of your own company while also working to give back and support all of us in the footwear industry.”

Best advice I’ve received: “Be authentic.”

Advice to industry newcomers: “Be open-minded and embrace opportunities that come your way.”

Biggest challenge: “No matter what our situation is in life, we are all working with a finite amount of time. For me, I continue to strive to make the most of the time I have.”

Biggest change in footwear: “The [biggest change] is the impact we’ve seen as consumers spend more time each year shopping online.”

My start in the footwear industry: “I was working in the retail division at MGM Mirage Corp. and was looking for a change. Zappos had recently moved to Las Vegas, and I applied for a merchandising assistant position, and the rest is history.”

My mentors: “Most recently, the two people I look to and want to continue to learn from are Jeff Espersen and Mike Normart.”

On championing the next generation: “The next generation needs to learn, gain understanding and work hard. Together with that, I think that leaders in the current generation need to continue to identify newcomers in the industry who are working hard so that we can provide them with opportunities to expand their roles and further develop their abilities.”

Stephanie Militello Birkenstock
Stephanie Militello
CREDIT: Kyle Hilton

Director of strategic account sales, Birkenstock USA

Biggest goal within Two Ten: “It’s important to increase awareness surrounding crisis services available. After the fires in California, which impacted my co-workers at Birkenstock, and the recent mudslides, it demonstrates that you never know when tragedy may occur.”

Best advice I’ve received: “To be patient. Experience and responsibility come over time. Build your career season by season and your professional growth will follow.”

Advice to industry newcomers: “Embrace change. The business is changing faster than ever before, and now is a time for anyone new to be open to any and all opportunities.”

Biggest challenge: “Balancing being a single mother and my career. Over the years, I have learned to prioritize. Rarely do I miss anything important as it pertains to work or my daughter. I am fortunate to work for a company that values family and makes it possible for me to excel both personally and professionally.”

My start in the footwear industry: “After college, my first job was with American Eagle Outfitters as an assistant buyer in shoes.”

My mentor: “I feel fortunate to call Birkenstock Americas CEO David Kahan my mentor. Over the past five years, he has helped in my professional and personal growth. When someone in a leadership role shows such a high degree of faith in you, it gives you a spark to not disappoint them and not allow yourself to fall short of your highest expectations. I am now committed to mentoring in this same manner.”

On championing the next generation: “Company leadership teams need to recognize key people who desire career growth. These performers should have a development plan in place and opportunities to network with their peers. The associate board of Two Ten is a perfect vehicle for this type of interaction and offers us the chance to contribute to those who need the services.”

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