On Nov. 30, Wolverine Worldwide leader Blake Krueger will be inducted in the Hall of Fame at the 35th annual FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Nov. 29 print issue about the skills and lessons that led to his successful career.
Blake Krueger isn’t quite ready to hang a “Gone Fishing” sign on his office door, but he’s looking ahead to some down time. The current chairman and CEO of Wolverine Worldwide Inc. will be taking on the role of executive chairman next year as he hands over leadership to current president Brendan Hoffman.
After a 28-year career steering the global business, whose 2021 revenues are expected to land between $2.4 billion and $2.5 billion, Krueger is being recognized for his stewardship with induction into the FN Hall of Fame as part of its annual Achievement Awards.
Krueger’s journey at the Rockford, Mich.-based company began in 1993 as general counsel and secretary. By 2007 he was named CEO, where he oversaw its more than billion-dollar acquisition of Saucony, Sperry, Keds and Stride Rite in 2012.
Although Krueger, 68, will be winding down his day-to-day duties, he’s preparing to do some globetrotting with Hoffman to introduce the new leader to Wolverine’s many friends and business partners.
Here, the industry veteran reflects on the many highs in his life and career.
On His Legal Background
“When I graduated from college, I had to make a decision to go to law or business school. I was lucky to choose law. It teaches you how to express yourself orally, in writing, but most importantly to think strategically and make decisions on your feet. In today’s world, speed is at the center of everything you do. You have to be able to make decisions and react — not when you’re 90% sure, but trust your instincts when you’re 60% sure.”
The Early Lessons
“Upon joining Wolverine, Geoff Bloom, then-CEO and new to the company, was my mentor. Along with a few others, we were entrusted with turning the company around and setting it on a different path. I always tell people I made a lot of mistakes in my career and have some scars. There’s no reason for them to have the same scars. Learn from someone who’s been around the block. I tell people to take risks and chances, trust their instincts and forge ahead. [Lastly], sheer effort and determination can sometimes make up for smarts and luck.”
A Skill That Paid Off
“I’m a relationship person and have lots of friends. Our international business was built on relationships, never on contracts. I’ve tried to put myself in the position of the other person. How would I like to be treated and approached. That’s been one of the benefits of chairing Two Ten Footwear Foundation and FDRA. I was able to form relationships and friendships with others in the industry, learn from them and offer my advice when asked.”
Weathering Marketing Changes
“I remember the financial crash of 1997 and the dot-com crash of 2001. When I became CEO, it was [around the same time as] the 2008 recession, then less than a decade later, COVID hit. It’s been interesting to watch how our partners in 170 countries and the U.S. have dealt with it. It’s resulted in some shifts in consumer behavior. It’s also taught us a few things, such as the ability to get your job done remotely — be effective, efficient, and communicate. Personally, I’m a firm believer in getting people back together if you want to create a culture and know them.”
His Personal Accomplishments
“I was lucky to find my wife, Mary. We’ve been married 42 years. I have four wonderful children, all very successful, and seven grandchildren. Mary’s been the glue of our family. When I was busy starting my career, working lots of hours and traveling around the world, all I did was set the unreasonable expectations for my children while she was the person who actually executed and saw it all happen. If you have that kind of support, it’s a huge advantage.”
On What Comes Next
“I’ve always enjoyed writing and have a number of unfinished books, including a series for children based on stories I used to tell my children and friends’ children. I’m also almost half-way done writing a book called ‘Rock ’n’ Roll for Children,’ about my [picks] of the top 10 rock ’n’ roll albums of all time. I love rock ’n’ roll, especially more classic rock.”
For 35 years, the annual FN Achievement Awards — often called the “Shoe Oscars” — have celebrated the style stars, best brand stories, ardent philanthropists, emerging talents and industry veterans. The 2021 event is supported by presenting sponsor Nordstrom, as well as Authentic Brands Group, FDRA, Informa, On and Wolverine Worldwide.