How These Footwear Leaders Got Their Start Will Surprise You

On an elevated stage at the top floor of New York City’s Neuehouse event center tonight, Angela Medlin pointed out her vibrant pair of Nike Air Max Dia sneakers.

“Designed by four women,” she explained.

Angela Medlin, women who rock 2019, footwear news, fn
Angela Medlin, right, founder of FAAS speaks at Women Who Rock 2019 in New York.
The Functional Apparel and Accessories Studio founder was among the group of women who gathered at FN’s “Breaking Through” panel during the second annual FN/Two Ten WIFI Women Who Rock event, hosted in conjunction with the release of the Women in Power issue, headlined by designer Tory Burch.

Sharing the spotlight was Famous Footwear president Molly Adams, Lacoste North and Central America president and CEO Joelle Grunberg, Converse vice president of global footwear Brandis Russell and Foot Locker vice president of North American consumer concepts Kirta Carroll.

Introduced by Aldo SVP Daianara Amalfitano, the five women took turns sharing pivotal moments in which they had made their mark in the fashion and footwear industries.

“I was called for the job of CEO at a jewelry business,” said Grunberg, who was a consultant at McKinsey at the time. “I got the job, but I had no CEO experience. It was very difficult for me because I was advising people who had more experience than I had.”

However, Grunberg cited the support of her father and, eventually, her husband — the former was also a CEO — who already knew the expectations of the profession and the ability that went with it.

“That was key to me — having someone who already did it and could relate to the job,” she added. “Behind each great male CEO, you often have a woman.”

Adams also stressed the importance of family. Following maternity leave with her second child, the executive returned to work — only to be approached by the CEO at her former company of The Walt Disney Company that she was promoted to a general manager position.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to do it, but I don’t do things halfway,” Adams said. “Now my kids are 18 and 21 [years old]. I was in my 30s, and the rest of the executive committee were men in their 50s. I realized I could do it… I really am a believer in family first. It gives you perspective, and I feel a sense of accomplishment.”

For Russell, it wasn’t so much about the role than it was the thrill of the job. In her early 20s, the industry leader already knew she had what it took to climb the executive ladder.

“Even though I didn’t have the title of VP or CEO, I had the vision,” Russell said, “I had the passion. I could see a clear path of where the business would go… Do what you’re doing, and crush it. Never let a title define your sense of what leadership looks like.”

Medlin, who boasts more than 25 years of experience as a designer for brands including Nike and Adidas, recalled her childhood in a small town in North Carolina — “population 10,000,” she said — to go into the world of fashion.

“It took one woman to pass my portfolio to the right person, and it took me to the top of the game,” she said — and now she’s paying it forward. “Almost 30 years, I’ve been making my way through the industry. But the next, most important moment of my life is… my own educational program about design. It’s not your usual college program; it’s about teaching people how to work in the real world.”

Launched by the Pensole Footwear Design Academy, the classes are centered on footwear design, color design, material design and brand design. “Fifty percent of my students have jobs in the industry now,” Medlin said, receiving a round of applause.

As for those students looking for jobs, Adams circled back with a kicker. At Famous Footwear, the president said she was looking for people who were both nice and smart. “If they’re smart, they’ll figure it out,” she said, “and if they’re nice, they’ll want to help us.”

Watch the highlights at the 2018 FNAAs.

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