As momentum builds at Wolverine World Wide Inc., the company is revealing the next step in its multiyear CEO transition process.
Brendan Hoffman — who joined Wolverine as president last September — will succeed Blake Krueger in the top spot at the end of 2021. Krueger — who has been a force at the Rockford, Mich.-based company since 1993 — will become executive chairman after 14 years in the CEO role.
As he prepares to pass the baton, Krueger reflected on Wolverine’s evolution through the decades.
“Back in 1993, the company was only three brands: Wolverine, Bates and Hush Puppies. We had Hush Puppies in about 50 countries,” he recalled. “Now we have a portfolio of 12 brands in about 170 countries and territories.”
The global prowess and leadership position of the firm helped lure Hoffman, who first met with Krueger and team on March 11, 2020, just two days before the first pandemic shutdown.
“What really attracted me was the portfolio of brands. Any of them would be exciting to me, but to have them under one portfolio … is the best of all worlds,” explained Hoffman. “As Blake likes to say, ‘Let the brands focus on the fun stuff, and let the center of excellence do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work.'”
Krueger noted that the transition comes as Wolverine’s business “is on a roll.”
“A lot of that is a credit to the team’s work over the past five years,” the executive said. “Some of the momentum is due to the pandemic. There is a huge surge of interest from consumers in outdoor and running. Our work businesses are doing extremely well. So we’re benefiting from all those tailwinds.”
Another sizable opportunity, according to Hoffman, is e-commerce. The incoming CEO has been charged with driving the company’s aggressive e-commerce goal of $500 million in 2021, doubling 2019 levels.
“We are well positioned to take these brands, with their legacy in footwear, and expand our own e-commerce — not at the expense of wholesale, but with a lens of being able to reach directly to the customer and tell the story.”
Wolverine’s investment in its digital business helped contribute to e-commerce growth of 83.6% in the first quarter.
More broadly, two labels led the way during the three-month period: Sales at Merrell increased nearly 25%, while Saucony surged close to 60%. Overall revenues rose 16.3% to $510.7 million, compared with analysts’ expectations of $511.8 million.
Wolverine — which expects to report more than $2.2 billion in revenues for the full year — continues to drive growth in key areas. But it’s also navigating complex supply chain pressures, including port congestion in the U.S. and Asia. Hoffman noted that being a company with so many brands under its umbrella is a distinct advantage during a critical time.
“We’re handling it as well as anyone is handling it. Being out in the forefront helps with our suppliers in Asia and beyond, and with all the logistics it takes to get the goods here and to the warehouse,” he said. “This will pass, and it will make us stronger. We will make sure we’re investing now to lay the foundation for future growth.”
Part of the company’s future growth will likely come from acquisitions, the executives confirmed. “Something Blake and the board got me very excited about was their willingness and openness and encouragement to be out there in the market for businesses that are not necessarily plug-and-play shoe brands, but could stretch our capabilities,” Hoffman said. Without calling out specific names, the incoming CEO said acquisitions could include apparel players or digitally-native brands that could help accelerate DTC expansion.
As they consider new pursuits, the duo is looking forward to resuming travel and meeting with partners and associates around the world. “Growing up in department stores, we were always kind of land-locked,” noted Hoffman, who was CEO and president of The Bon-Ton Stores and president and CEO of Lord & Taylor before joining Vince in 2015. “A big part of my enthusiasm for this company is that it’s truly global. There’s always something to focus on.”
Now the leaders will focus on ensuring the transition continues to be smooth for the company’s team of 3,000 people.
“The board and I took our time to make sure we found the very best person. I’m not going to immediately disappear into the sunset,” Krueger said. “Given our demand profile right now, it’s a very good time.”