Per­son of the Year

She’s am­bi­tious, de­ter­mined and one of the in­dus­try’s most ad­mired CEOs. How the Caleres chief is ex­e­cut­ing her bold agenda.

Footwear News - - CONTENTS - By KATIE ABEL

Diane Sul­li­van

Even as Diane Sul­li­van was still for­mu­lat­ing her mas­ter plan for Caleres Inc. in 2013, the CEO, pres­i­dent and chair­man told FN she was think­ing big. “I have very high as­pi­ra­tions for where we’re go­ing to go. It’s that com­pet­i­tive spirit in me — I want to win,” she said.

Five years later, the ex­ec­u­tive has led a dra­matic trans­for­ma­tion at the St. Louis­based com­pany — and she’s def­i­nitely win­ning. In 2018, Sul­li­van en­gi­neered two siz­able ac­qui­si­tions — Vionic Group and a ma­jor­ity stake in Blow­fish Mal­ibu — and in­stalled a new woman, Molly Adams, to lead re­tail powerhouse Fa­mous Footwear.

Un­der Sul­li­van’s lead­er­ship, Caleres also racked up im­pres­sive dig­i­tal growth and notched mar­ket share gains across the whole­sale divi­sion — no easy feat in a com­plex re­tail cli­mate. Ac­cord­ing to year-to­date data from The NPD Group Inc.’s women’s fash­ion footwear data­base, six of the top 30 brands in the in­dex are Caleres la­bels, in­clud­ing Sam Edel­man, Nat­u­ral­izer, Vionic, LifeStride, Franco Sarto and Dr. Scholl’s.

“What the com­pany has ac­com­plished is re­mark­able,” said Steve Marotta, an an­a­lyst at CL King & As­so­ciates. “Diane is stel­lar in a whole bunch of ways — not just pro­fes­sion­ally but also per­son­ally. She’s a class act and cares about peo­ple.”

In Oc­to­ber — on the day Caleres re­vealed it was ac­quir­ing Vionic for $360 mil­lion — Sul­li­van flew to the brand’s San Rafael, Calif., head­quar­ters to meet the en­tire team. “I wanted to be out there in the mo­ment for a town hall. Peo­ple want to know what the val­ues of the com­pany are. I lit­er­ally shook ev­ery per­son’s hand,” she re­called.

Seal­ing the Vionic deal was an im­por­tant mile­stone for Sul­li­van, who had been work­ing on it for some time. “I loved what Vionic was do­ing in a space where there wasn’t as much com­pe­ti­tion, and the fact they had dif­fer­en­tiable tech­nol­ogy,” she said.

The ex­ec­u­tive was also at­tracted to the strong team, led by CEO Chris Gal­lagher and pres­i­dent Con­nie Rish­wain. “Not only did we get a great brand, but I picked up first-class tal­ent,” she said.

For his part, Gal­lagher said the two com­pa­nies were a strong cul­tural fit, thanks in large part to Sul­li­van her­self. “I was look­ing for a CEO who was well-re­spected, with a pas­sion and vi­sion for the footwear in­dus­try,” he said. “Ev­ery per­son I have met from Diane’s team is in­tel­li­gent, car­ing, proac­tive and great to work with.”

Cul­ti­vat­ing more di­verse tal­ent across the com­pany’s top ranks has been a pri­or­ity for Sul­li­van.

When long­time Fa­mous Footwear pres­i­dent Rick Au­sick re­tired this year, Sul­li­van con­ducted an ex­pan­sive search for a new leader, both in­side and out­side the com­pany. She even­tu­ally picked Adams, a Walt Dis­ney Co. EVP, to lead Caleres’ largest divi­sion — which re­ported its sev­enth con­sec­u­tive year of comp gains dur­ing the al­limpor­tant back-to-school sea­son.

“One of the things I wanted to do is aug­ment our lead­er­ship team with some­one who had a great con­sumer fo­cus and a dif­fer­ent set of ex­pe­ri­ences,” Sul­li­van said. “Molly has a won­der­ful way of en­gag­ing with peo­ple. The early read is that she’s shak­ing things up, ask­ing a lot of ques­tions and es­tab­lish­ing her vi­sion for Fa­mous.”

In ad­di­tion to ap­point­ing Adams, Sul­li­van has worked hard to foster fe­male tal­ent within the com­pany’s board of di­rec­tors, where Caleres now has 55 per­cent women rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Be­yond her own board­room, Sul­li­van is also a force in the com­mu­nity, both in Caleres’ home­town of St. Louis and be­yond.

The CEO has been one of the most prom­i­nent sup­port­ers of the Two Ten Footwear Foun­da­tion and FFANY Shoes on Sale, and Caleres gives to char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the St. Louis Art Mu­seum and Mis­souri Botan­i­cal Gar­den. The com­pany is a long­time pa­tron of the United Way of Greater St. Louis and March of Dimes.

As she jug­gles her busi­ness and phil­an­thropic pur­suits, Sul­li­van is adapt­ing to a rapidly shift­ing land­scape. “The pace of change is un­prece­dented,” she said, not­ing that new in­fla­tion­ary pres­sures and sourc­ing chal­lenges are is­sues that ev­ery­one is fac­ing.

But through it all, the in­dus­try vet­eran is de­ter­mined to stay op­ti­mistic. “Any­thing is pos­si­ble if you keep work­ing at it,” she said. “Don’t sweat it day to day; think about it from a long-term per­spec­tive. Keep the faith.”

“DON’T SWEAT IT DAY TO DAY; THINK ABOUT IT FROM A LONG-TERM PER­SPEC­TIVE. KEEP THE FAITH.”

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