Strength of Women: Leaders From Genesco, Steve Madden, Skechers & More on What They’ve Learned About Leading in a Crisis

This month, we are highlighting female forces across the industry who as part of our “Strength of Women” series. Here, executives from 10 companies offer up advice for leading in a crisis.

Mimi Vaughn President & CEO, Genesco Inc.

Be confident: “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good decision making. We took dramatic and swift actions to safeguard the health of our employees and customers, drive e-commerce, manage inventory, cut expenses, tighten capital, preserve liquidity and maintain financial flexibility. Many times, we would make a decision in the morning and then with better information, change that decision in the afternoon. … But what was most important was our openness to be flexible and willingness to change our minds.”

Mimi Vaughn speaks at a Genesco event last year.
CREDIT: Courtesy Image

Marcee Mackey VP of human resources, Skechers USA Inc.

Consider the big picture: “I have been with Skechers since the early days, and given that I am responsible for human resources, have [encountered] many challenges through the years. That said, nothing compares to what we faced in 2020 with coronavirus and the shift to a work-at-home business. Skechers has corporate offices in the United States as well as across South America, Europe, India, Canada and Asia — plus a global network of retail stores. My No. 1 focus has been the safety and well-being of every member of our workforce, and their comfort and confidence in this new working situation. Effectively executing has required a dedicated and driven team, as well as executives who are open to suggestions, available for crucial decisions — and who respect the choices that my support staff and I have to make.”

Jennifer Estabrook President, Fila North America

Communication is key: “The anxiety caused by uncertainty is a huge drain on the organization, and the only way to combat that is with ongoing and straightforward communication to the entire company. I want everyone to hear from me what we are doing and why we are doing it. And when I don’t know about something, I let them know what steps we are taking to figure it out. In addition, it is important to be caring. We are not used to living in such an extended state of uncertainty — both in our business lives and, even more so, in our personal lives.”

Debbie Donohue VP of operations, Steve Madden

Be flexible: “The company acted swiftly to protect our workers. We have showrooms and offices throughout New York City, where we work closely together. We immediately moved everyone remotely and changed our business model. We have never been a remote company, but always a nimble one. I knew that we would be able to reorganize these things overnight and transition to offsite quite well.”

Giovanna Cipriano SVP & chief accounting officer, Foot Locker Inc.

Stay upbeat: “Winston Churchill said it best, ‘For myself, I am an optimist — it does not seem to be much use being anything else.’ There is so much to be worried about these days, and being an optimist does not mean that you ignore the issues we face, but rather that you learn from it, accept the reality and do something about it. Helping Two Ten, for me, is a tangible way to help those in need. Optimism is a state of mind that focuses on the positive rather than getting stuck in the negative and accepting what we can’t change.”

Foot Locker SVP Giovanna Cipriano
Giovanna Cipriano
CREDIT: Courtesy Image

Erika Paman-Mercado Safety manager, Zappos.com

Teamwork is essential: “With health and safety headlining everything we do, I’ve had to step into unfamiliar territory and be at the forefront. It was scary and overwhelming at first, and professionally, there was no way I was going to be able to do this on my own. Zappos continues to navigate this crisis using our best resources: our people and culture. At the onset, we established a team from various areas who bring the power of different perspectives.”

Ana Marchionni GM, Caleres 2 distribution center

Support at home is important: “I am fortunate that my husband is able to work from home during this time and is able to care for our son while schools are closed. Without that, I wouldn’t be able to continue doing what I’m doing. Also, the continued sacrifices and efforts of my managers and team, along with their families, have driven me to continue working as hard as I can to help them, keep them safe and serve our customers on a daily basis.”

Kate Pinkham Global GM & VP, Hush Puppies

Be kind: “While this is a super stressful time, we must be extremely sensitive to what our employees are experiencing personally: unexpected childcare responsibilities, financial uncertainty, loneliness. Even though we are strapped for time, we must make a conscious effort to check in and be more aware of the impact our words and actions have.”

Laura Conwell O’Brien Executive director, Atlanta Shoe Market

Look ahead: “Leading through a crisis requires taking the long view, as opposed to managing the present. You need to anticipate what comes next week, next month and even next year in order to prepare the organization for the changes ahead.”

Brittany Moeller Women’s buyer, Rack Room Shoes

Embrace challenges: “Adaptability and optimism are keys to success.  We have to adjust and move to meet needs right now, but be prepared for a different future.  We don’t know what life this fall or spring ’21 has in store. We need to be prepared to flex our assortments to fulfill customer demand based on where they are, physically and emotionally .  We also have to share our optimism with our internal buying teams and externally with our customers, it’s important they know you believe we can apply everything we have learned during this challenging time for the betterment of our company, our industry and our country.”

Brittany Moeller
CREDIT: Courtesy Image
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