Dear Beverly, As you embark on your career, here’s some advice that will be helpful along the way—starting in that interview right out of college. Don’t panic! Not even after earnestly telling the interviewer, “I really like to shop, so I’m sure I’d be successful as a department store buyer.” You actually said that. But don’t worry, later in the interview you convince her that you have what it takes to succeed in Federated Department Stores’ executive training program. And succeed you will! Your first assignment is a brief stint in the menswear department for the Dallas-based Sanger Harris chain, which eventually merges into Macy’s. Soon after, you’re promoted to a dream job: assistant buyer for women’s shoes. That job marks the first in a series of wonderful opportunities that make up what is, to date, a 36-year-long career in footwear. It’s an industry that you’ll quickly come to adore, one filled with talented people, amazing travel and, of course, beautiful shoes.
Right away you learn that being a buyer goes far beyond a love of shopping. The job also consists of financial analysis, marketing and advertising, product knowledge, sales and fashion trends, and communicating with sales representatives and employees at distribution centers and stores. It’s challenging, but you rise to the occasion. Fortunately, you work alongside people who mentor you. You wisely embrace learning from them. In fact, one of the best pieces of advice I can offer is to make the most of every professional relationship that comes your way. Some of these people will become instrumental in your career success.
After being promoted to associate buyer at Sanger Harris, you make the jump to buyer for the Shoe Box/Shoe Gallery stores, owned by
G.H. Bass & Company. This takes you to trade markets around the world. You’ll never forget your first trip to Europe, where you tour a factory in Italy and observe every step of transforming raw leather into beautiful shoes. You come to appreciate the art of footwear design even more! Shopping the market in London, Paris and Florence is a fabulous experience as well.
You then make the move to JCPenney’s headquarters in Dallas, joining the company as a buyer and soon becoming a DMM. You’ll be involved in rolling out a central distribution program for women’s shoes. Then, as a merchandise development manager, you’ll oversee a team developing private label in women’s, men’s and children’s shoes—a job that requires visiting factories in the Far East, Europe and Brazil. After seven years with JCPenney, you cross into wholesale, as director of sales for Rockport and then vice president of sales. Over a seven-year span, you work for six different bosses! Another piece of advice: Listen more than talk. You’ll learn from each of them. What’s more, you’ll develop patience and persistence, and figure out how to adapt to new experiences and expectations.
You then become national sales director at Kenneth Cole, where you’ll work with a group of great people and learn from the best. In 2006, you’ll be offered a terrific opportunity: to become vice president of Florsheim, a division of Weyco Group, Inc. There’s just one catch. It involves leaving your beloved Dallas for Milwaukee. Leaving Texas won’t be easy. By now you’re married, with three young children and many longtime friends who you consider family. What’s more, you’ll be leaving business contacts you’ve cultivated over 25 years. But another piece of advice: It’s absolutely the right move. Look at it as a new adventure, from both personal and professional perspectives. Your family is supportive of the move and transitions well. You discover Milwaukee to be a welcoming community where you make wonderful friends. Florsheim is a welcoming family as well. At 127 years old, it boasts a remarkable history, and your team will make even more history by introducing casual collections, strengthening its dress shoe legacy and launching a children’s line.
Success in this business never comes easy. It requires talent and a ton of hard work. As a woman, you’ll face additional challenges. Often, you’re the only woman in a meeting and you’ll lead teams of men. Meanwhile, you’ll struggle to juggle the conflicting demands of work and family. While there’s never enough time, my advice is to get help when you need it and be content with doing your best. Trust your instincts and follow your mantra to “just keep on moving forward.” You’ll have good and bad days, but the positives outweigh the negatives.
You will be rewarded for your efforts with success and satisfaction. Moreover, you’ll be recognized by your peers for your achievements. You’ll never forget the phone call in 1996 informing that you’re the Two Ten Footwear Foundation’s annual A.A. Bloom Memorial Award recipient, recognizing an individual who exemplifies charitable contributions within the industry. You are the first woman to win this prestigious award! Two Ten’s mission of philanthropy is near and dear to your heart. You love volunteering at its annual Dallas golf fundraisers; serving on its board of directors; assisting in creating Footwear Cares days, an annual volunteer campaign in Milwaukee that becomes national in scope; and serving as a mentor through the foundation’s Women in the Footwear Industry (WIFI) initiative. WIFI is a win-win: Passing on what you’ve learned to those following in your footsteps is a joy, and learning from those you mentor is equally rewarding.
My last bits of advice: Enjoy every day of the journey, where you’ll always be learning, seeing the world and having more fun than you ever dreamed! Always be grateful for the love and support of your family, because none of your success would be possible without them. And hold on tight, because time flies!