For Brendan Hoffman, who joined Wolverine Worldwide in 2020 from Vince and took the helm as president and CEO at the beginning of 2022, prioritization is the key to success.
At the FN CEO Summit in Miami on Thursday, Hoffman told FN editorial director and Fairchild Media Group chief brand officer Michael Atmore that the company didn’t do a great job of prioritizing before he took the helm.
“One of the first things I learned when I joined Wolverine was that we don’t do a great job prioritizing, every brand would get the same amount of attention across the board, and we didn’t adapt to business needs,” Hoffman noted. “This is ultimately what led to the new brand structure we unveiled in November.”
Indeed, late last year, Wolverine Worldwide announced several new actions that include a new brand group structure and leadership moves.
As of the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022, the Rockford, Mich.-based company said it has reorganized its portfolio of brands into three reportable segments. The Active Group now consists of Merrell footwear and apparel, Saucony footwear and apparel, Sweaty Betty activewear and Chaco footwear. The Work Group is comprised of Wolverine footwear and apparel, Cat footwear, Bates uniform footwear, Harley-Davidson footwear and HyTest safety footwear. And the Lifestyle Group consists of Sperry footwear, Keds footwear and Hush Puppies footwear and apparel.
At the time, the company said the move was to allow it to focus on the brands and product categories that have the biggest opportunities to maximize future value creation. Hoffman called it at the time a “natural progression” of the business.
Since this move, Wolverine announced changes to its Sweaty Betty business last month including consolidating office space in London and having the brand report into the company’s London-based International Group, which oversees business outside the U.S. and is headed up by Isabel Soriano.
This prioritization also led to Hoffman’s decision to divest the company’s Keds brand in December. “It was an emotionally tough decision,” Hoffman said. “We didn’t have the resources to invest in Keds, so I think the outcome of selling the brand to DBI [Designer Brands Inc] was terrific. It has also been terrific for Doug [Howe, CEO of DBI] and I think there are great lessons for the company in some of these tough choices we have to make.”
Asked further about his leadership style, Hoffman went back to prioritizing – something he said he learned early on in his career. “Any success I’ve had in my career is possessing the ability to prioritize,” the executive said. “And as I’ve grown into leadership positions along the way, I’ve also learned to empower people – hoping that I’m surrounding myself with smarter people than me – and allowing them to not be afraid to fail.”
Hoffman added that the company has started a “failure lab,” which has rolled out to the entire organization to teach employees the power of feeling that it’s okay to fail. “Obviously we do not want colossal failures,” he said. “But quick fails that we can learn from, that’s been something I’ve been able to bring to Wolverine.”
As for the state of retail, Hoffman noted that the industry is going through a shift dictated by inventory levels and raising prices. “I think there is a confusing picture out there now, especially with some of the discounting activity,” Hoffman noted. “But from a product standpoint, when you bring out newness and innovation, customers will react. The ability to present new items in an exciting way is important.”
As for its own inventory issues, Hoffman admitted that Wolverine Worldwide is investing in tools to try to make sure it is much more balanced with inventory management. “Certainly, the world is changing in terms of the way the retailers are placing goods and in terms of how forward they want to look versus how much they want to react,” the CEO said. “So I think there still will be a learning curve. But no, it’s certainly not our intent to be to be scrambling for inventory. I’m glad that we’re in a much better place and now it’s about optimizing it. So that we don’t let the pendulum swing too far.”
The 2023 FN CEO Summit is sponsored by Aetrex Inc., MakerSights, NuOrder by Lightspeed and Skypad.