Hire Up: Genesco’s First Female CEO, Mimi Vaughn, Talks About Her Journey to the Top Spot

Mimi Eckel Vaughn, a 16-year veteran of Genesco Inc., is powering full steam ahead into the next decade. A 16-year veteran of Genesco Inc., she will take over the key role as president and CEO, effective Feb. 2, at the start of the company’s fiscal year. The mother of four is the first woman to assume the position in the Nashville, Tenn.-based company’s 95-year history.

Appointed COO in 2018, Vaughn succeeds current chairman, president and CEO Robert Dennis. She joined Genesco as VP of strategy and business development in 2003 and became SVP of the division in 2006. Three years later, she was named SVP of strategy and shared services, then she assumed the post of CFO in 2015.

Here, Vaughn talks about her changing roles at Genesco and learning along the way.

How I got here: “[Retail] has been in my DNA as far back as I can remember. I grew up in New York, where my grandmother worked for B. Altman & Co., in one of its offices. I grew up visiting her there and believed there was magic in those walls. There was such beautiful merchandise. I remember a doll house I received for Christmas one year, and some wonderful dresses that made me feel special. I grew up thinking retail was about making people feel special, figuring out what their needs were, and being able to delight them. In college, I worked for Rich’s department store in Atlanta, in the accessories department. I was motivated by the challenge of figuring out the right accessories for [customers’] needs. I measured [my] success by the sales I’d ring up.”

My professional career path: “I was an investment banker and a strategy consultant at McKinsey  & Co., where I specialized in the retail and consumer sectors. [After] joining Genesco, my [focus] was thinking about the overall strategy of the company and working with its great leaders and operators to grow Genesco through inorganic and organic opportunities. I had a chance to lead our shared services area, which included technology, logistics and human resources. The most interesting decision on the part of CEO Bob Dennis was to put me over technology. It’s such an important part of retail today. It ended up being a formative part of my experience here.”

Key job goals: “We have well-positioned businesses in Journeys, Johnston & Murphy and Schuh, and our licensed brand businesses. The key to success across those businesses is the ability to understand and service customers better than anybody else and continue to serve them with distinctive and fashion-right product. At the same time, [we’re] growing our digital and omnichannel businesses, two [areas] we have spent a lot of time thinking about.”

Job challenge: “Retail is challenging right now but always changing and fun. There’s always a new and next best concept or brand that comes along and [presents] a lot of competition. However, the use of technology and the rise of e-commerce is the biggest challenge. Attracting and keeping the customer has fundamentally changed and [is] driven by technology. It requires new capabilities on our part from analytics to real-time inventory in order to execute things like ‘buy online, pick up in store.’ We spend a lot of time and effort thinking about how we can employ technology in a way that helps drive and grow our business.”

Best decisions ever made: “Joining Genesco. I’m so honored to work with our extremely talented and dedicated management team and employees to lead the next chapter of growth. [Overseeing] technology was part of my shared services responsibility. It wasn’t something that naturally might have happened in my career, but [it] helped me meet some of the key industry challenges. Personally, it was marrying my husband and raising our four daughters. We have a human petri dish of fashion, marketing and selling to girls that serves me well every day.”

Advice to the younger generation: “Act with passion in everything they do because it’s the passion that will motivate them to see opportunities and make decisions.”

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