Every day in June, FN is showcasing female leaders across the industry for our Women in Power series.
Sue Rechner is one of the rare female leaders in the male-dominated outdoor footwear industry, joining Merrell in May 2017. And since, the president has enacted change (mostly concerning the modernizing of product) that has led the company to several quarters of growth.
Here, Rechner reflects on her career path, the influence of playing team sports on leadership style and how #MeToo has “made everyone reflect.”
Talk about your career path in your own words — what were the biggest tipping points for you that led you to this point?
“Early in my career, moving from the operations side of business to the consumer-facing side pushed me to deeply consider which path I wanted to take and the decisions I needed to get there. Another was being appointed president of Swiss Army. I was young and inexperienced, but was given an incredible opportunity that influenced my leadership style — specifically when providing people with changes, new opportunities and challenges. One last element that has informed who and where I am today has been the exposure to so many different types of business models. I’ve run companies that were family and private equity owned as well as had executive roles in public companies. The unique approach by each has exposed me to incredible diversity in thinking and problem solving.”
What has been your biggest career accomplishment and why?
“Saving a company with iconic brands and talented people from near liquidation. People kept their jobs and we all worked together to rebuild the business into the leader in the category.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership in the fashion and footwear industries?
“Every challenge is an opportunity. There are no barriers that cannot be overcome with talent, desire and perseverance.”
What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you? What are you doing to support them?
“Keeping pace with the rate of change — it is one of those great equalizers and true for everyone. I seize every interaction as an opportunity to mentor.”
Have you encountered resistance when working under — or leading — men? How did you overcome that?
“Sure, there were many instances where we just thought about things differently. But in the end, if you build mutual respect and trust, it transcends everything, including gender.”
What is a powerful leadership moment you’ve experienced?
“Leadership is composed of many learning and teaching moments. The most powerful ones for me are those that help people realize their potential.”
What advice do you have for women negotiating a salary increase, promotion or other challenging issue at work?
“Actively listen. State your case. Ask the insightful and challenging questions. Demand if you need to. Don’t give up. Take the high road.”
How has #MeToo changed the professional landscape and your workplace specifically?
“It’s made everyone reflect. It’s made us more aware, and hopefully, more articulate in discussing, understanding and confronting the issue. [But] there’s more that needs to change.”
What is the best career decision you’ve ever made — and the worst?
“Best: playing team sports. It has substantially influenced my leadership style. When playing on a team, there are significant interdependencies, best known as teamwork. When teams gel, the team wins. Respect for individual roles, responsibilities and contributions, coupled with collective best thinking will get you to the optimal result. [And the] worst: I’ve likely made many bad decisions, but hindsight is 20/20. Reflecting on those, I look at it has having made the best decisions I could, based on the information I had at the time.”
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