Well Wish­ers

In the twi­light of re­tire­ment for Rick Au­sick, sev­eral busi­ness part­ners and pals share fond mem­o­ries of Fa­mous Footwear’s stalwart leader.


Footwear ex­ecs bid farewell to their part­ner and friend.

Rick’s lead­er­ship style:

“The more time I worked with Rick, [the more I re­al­ized] he was a very steady leader who re­lied heav­ily on his team. He and Diane [Sul­li­van, CEO of Caleres] would set di­rec­tion — he wasn’t a guy who would med­dle with de­ci­sions that his team made. He was in­volved and sup­port­ive but wasn’t go­ing to do their work for them. There are days I wish he would have more, but I had great love for the fact that he al­ways stood by his team and sup­ported their de­ci­sions.”

His busi­ness su­per­power:

“Rick is thought­ful. He looks at the long term — he al­ways made the de­ci­sion that was best for Caleres and Fa­mous Footwear and was very trans­par­ent about those de­ci­sions. It’s al­ways easy for a cus­tomer to buy ev­ery­thing you’re sell­ing, but when we would have a dif­fer­ent point of view or a dif­fer­ence of opinion, he would be very trans­par­ent on why — and at the same time res­o­lute in the de­ci­sions that he made. That’s what I look for in a part­ner: Some­one you can un­der­stand and who pro­vides trans­parency and com­mu­ni­cates their de­ci­sions clearly. Rick is also a guy who didn’t need to be ‘right’; he only wanted to get to the right de­ci­sion.”

Best me­mory to­gether:

“It was when we both built homes around the same time, so we ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of the same sur­prises that come up when you’re do­ing it. Rick and his wife built a home in Ari­zona, and I know that was very im­por­tant to him and his wife and their life­style. We had many of the same ex­pe­ri­ences that he was go­ing through in building their home. It never quite goes the way you want.”

My pre­dic­tions for Fa­mous Footwear:

“Rick has built some­thing that is go­ing to last be­yond his per­sonal con­tri­bu­tions. I can’t think of a bet­ter sen­ti­ment for a leader than to know you left some­thing much bet­ter than you found it.”

Rick’s lead­er­ship style:

“He’s so fair and com­pas­sion­ate in busi­ness. Ever since Rick has come into his po­si­tion at Fa­mous Footwear, it has changed quite a bit. The peo­ple there are a re­flec­tion of him. He’s been an in­cred­i­ble busi­ness­man who has brought in great prac­tices to our team. By many of the prac­tices that I’ve seen him preach, Rick has be­come a fa­ther fig­ure in many ways.”

Best me­mory to­gether:

“When you walk into a room with Rick Au­sick and go and sit in­side the Bac­carat Ho­tel [in New York]. You have Rick with his hair per­fectly combed, his watch giv­ing you a bit of bling and his con­fi­dence. [I re­mem­ber] Rick sit­ting there with my fa­ther and telling sto­ries on how to im­prove the in­dus­try — it was just won­der­ful. Those are a lot of the sto­ries we have to­gether — [dis­cussing] how to im­prove per­for­mances in our busi­ness and the fu­ture of the shoe in­dus­try.”

His busi­ness su­per­power:

“The way that Rick treats ev­ery­one he meets and all the team mem­bers. He has a great and kind com­pas­sion for hu­man­ity. He also ex­udes pa­tience. It’s not just about to­day; it’s about the fu­ture. He sees a vi­sion for, say, an 18-month plan, and he’s able to bring the plan through each sea­son and de­liver. In tough times, when you’d see ev­ery­one slash­ing prices, Rick would stick

to his busi­ness plan and didn’t crack. At the end of the day, he pre­vailed.” My pre­dic­tions for Fa­mous Footwear: “Who­ever goes in there, they’ve got big shoes to fill. He’s a size 14.”

His busi­ness su­per­power:

“He’s al­ways been the con­sum­mate gen­tle­man. Rick is a fan­tas­tic merchant and a re­tailer who has cham­pi­oned brands that al­ways find ways to con­nect with his con­sumers. [I’d de­scribe him as]: gen­tle­man, merchant and al­ways think­ing about his con­sumer. Also, I would say there is a level of trans­parency. What you see with Rick is what you get, and if you’re fo­cused on serv­ing the needs of his busi­ness and con­sumers, he will cham­pion your brand.”

I ad­mire him for:

“It’s a trend in the footwear in­dus­try right now for peo­ple with depart­ment store back­grounds [to make a ca­reer move into] spe­cialty re­tail or mod­er­ate re­tail. Rick was one of the first peo­ple with a true depart­ment store back­ground to bring that sen­si­bil­ity to the fam­ily footwear chan­nel yet adapt his back­ground to be com­pletely fo­cused on that busi­ness. Rick helped bring the best el­e­ments of bet­ter re­tail­ing to the fam­ily footwear chan­nel, and he raised the bar for ev­ery­one in that mar­ket. There’s no doubt about that.”

Best me­mory to­gether:

“Rick was here about a month ago [at Birken­stock’s of­fices in No­vato, Calif.], and we took him to a win­ery on an un­usu­ally cold day and did a wine tast­ing. Rick was sit­ting with a blan­ket wrapped around him dur­ing the tast­ing, and then we had din­ner in­side the win­ery, in its cave. Rick is on his last few months in his role and took the time to fly to San Fran­cisco and do im­por­tant busi­ness. Then he didn’t get on the first flight out but spent the af­ter­noon shar­ing the time, en­joy­ing the wine tast­ing and then hav­ing a din­ner in a cave. I’d say that’s a mem­o­rable mo­ment with Rick.”

His lead­er­ship style:

“His char­ac­ter is de­fined by a gen­uine car­ing of the peo­ple he works with, the peo­ple he rep­re­sents and ev­ery­one he comes into con­tact with. He’s a fair man. What you see is what you get. He’s steady.”

How it all started:

“Rick and I first met when he joined Fa­mous Footwear, and I got to know him through the years. I’ve ac­tu­ally never done busi­ness with him or worked for him. It’s been more of a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship. We’re just two kin­dred

souls who like to talk about the footwear busi­ness.”

His busi­ness su­per­power:

“The sin­gle word that comes to mind with Rick is ‘col­lab­o­ra­tion.’ For those of us who grew up in the re­tail busi­ness, it was ad­ver­sar­ial, with brands against re­tail­ers and re­tail­ers against brands, but we needed each other. Rick brought a col­lab­o­ra­tive style to his work. ‘Part­ner­ship’ gets thrown around way too much in our in­dus­try — and it’s of­ten code for ‘do it my way.’ How­ever, in the case of Rick, he did de­velop true part­ner­ships with peo­ple, and they felt they were get­ting a fair deal — a win-win sit­u­a­tion.”

Best me­mory to­gether:

“My most mem­o­rable mo­ments with Rick were late nights around a ta­ble, typ­i­cally with an adult bev­er­age in hand, solv­ing the prob­lems of our in­dus­try. Many an even­ing, I ex­cused my­self be­cause I couldn’t keep up with the crew he rolled with. I would just dis­ap­pear.”

His lead­er­ship style:

“I’ve never met any­one who worked for Rick who didn’t like him — that’s an­other great hall­mark of his per­son­al­ity. That’s es­sen­tially his lead­er­ship style.”

What I’ll re­mem­ber most:

“Of­ten­times, you find peo­ple in se­nior man­age­ment who can be aloof — Rick is not; he’s al­ways ac­ces­si­ble. He will take the time to talk to peo­ple at the trade show or al­ways have a kind word for peo­ple. He’s a gen­uine hu­man be­ing.”

Solomon Dabah Pres­i­dent, Vida Shoes

Rob DeMar­tini CEO, New Bal­ance Inc.

David Ka­han CEO of the Amer­i­cas, Birken­stock

Matt Pow­ell VP and se­nior in­dus­try ad­viser, The NPD Group Inc.

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