Key descriptors such as “tenacity” and “grit” led the discussion on “Exploring Genesco’s Footwear Focused Journey” at the FN CEO Summit, held on Aug. 3 at The Plaza Hotel in New York.
Mimi Vaughn, the board chair, president and CEO at Genesco Inc., and Matt Priest, president and CEO of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA), conversed on leadership during the pandemic, navigating the brand’s evolution and the footwear industry’s “time of huge transformation.”
Vaughn, who assumed her position as CEO of the company in February 2020, is the first woman chief executive in Genesco’s 100-year history. As bad timing would have it, due to the swift and aggressive nature of the pandemic, Genesco lost $90 million in the first half of that year, and Vaughn said she took “an aggressive approach” to action, noting that as a leader it is critical to “make the most of the opportunities presented to us.”
Through “such tenacity and such grit,” Vaughn said that post-pandemic “our business is fundamentally better,” adding that the firm’s profitability is up 50% from the year before and its branded business has grown by $100 million.
Much of Vaughn’s focus at a time of incredible turbulence was on managing the transition to a new corporate headquarters office based in Nashville, Tenn., that opened its doors in May 2022. Vaughn’s goal was to make Genesco “right for the digital age,” which included a hybrid work model and an office space designed with thoughtful and painstaking detail.
“We designed our headquarters to allow us to our best work,” she said, adding that the light-filled space is full of energy and allows for the building of community and culture that enabled the company to “survive and thrive.”
When Priest asked about Vaughn’s approach to the makeup of her board at Genesco and plans to drive future growth, she said it involved prioritizing different points of view. “It brings a lot of different voices in the room and allows us to make better decisions for our employees and ourselves,” she said.
“It has been very important for us to evolve, and we are very intentional about this,” Vaughn added, noting that Genesco’s board is more than 50% diverse today. She further stated that 70% of Genesco’s employees are women; two-thirds are non-Caucasian; and one-third Caucasian.
And naturally, with evolution, growth and planning for the future comes a focus on ESG. “We serve a lot of Gen Z customers, and they really care about it,” she said, noting that enthusiasm is the leading sentiment for several ESG issues the company is currently tackling. Through the development of an ESG sub-committee; revamping its communication efforts regarding statuses and progress; and addressing initiatives around product, packaging and its facilities, Vaughn said Genesco is actively gaining momentum with bold and “broad reaching efforts.”
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