Thursday, October 8, 2015

Lessons from a CEO and Alum

Today, my Logistics and Transportation class had the pleasure and honor of having Marc Schneider, the CEO of Kenneth Cole Productions, who is also an Isenberg School alum, class of '81, come and speak.

It was a perfect October day with bright sunshine, blue sky, and the foliage in its colorful majesty.

I managed to see Marc, who had driven from his home 100 miles away, sitting in front of the Isenberg School so we began the day with a very pleasant chat and then were joined by the Isenberg School Dean, Dr. Mark A. Fuller, so I could not resist taking the photo below.
Marc was being escorted throughout his busy day by Andrew Clendinneng, our Executive Director of Development, who was kind enough to bring us coffee and a latte.. Marc's  day included meeting with 3 classes of students, meeting with our Dean, and a special lunch. But my class was his first slot of the day, which was great.

We benefited from his wisdom delivered in a conversational mode with a lot of questions from the students. Marc has had a meteoric career in retail, with positions at Macy's, where he worked for 13 years, as Executive VP of Bob's Stores of Melville Corp., as Senior VP of Timberland Co., as President of Dress Furnishings of PVH Corp., and Group President of Heritage Brands at PVH.  PVH has name brands such as Calvin Klein, Bass, Tommy Hilfinger, and Van Heusen. He majored in Management and Finance at the Isenberg School.

He emphasized that the most important resource in a company is the individual and one needs to be able to maximize the team since so much in an organization depends on teamwork. He also noted how important it is to be nice but, ideally, both nice and talented. He joined Macy's because of its training program, which included rotations in management, finance, logistics, etc., and he wanted a company that would invest in him. While there, he even did college recruiting and traveled the country with alums of various universities.

He told the class to be flexible and noted that success is not a vertical path and sometimes you have to turn around on the highway or take a different route as he did today when encountering traffic on I91. While at Macy's, he hired someone who later became the President of Gap and someone who became the President of Coach. Clearly, Mr. Schneider knows how to identify talented individuals! He became VP at Macy's at age 26 and headed a private label there at age 28.

During 10 years at Timberland he would fly to Europe 15 times per year. The main offices were in NH, NYC, and London. The company was a leader in CSR (corporate social responsibility) and that is something that Marc is now leading as CEO of Kenneth Cole Productions.

His travel has continued and he has been to Asia 60 times and is off to China again on Sunday.

We very much appreciated his frankness with us. He mentioned that, at the beginning of his career, his dream was to be a CEO and now he wants to be happy. This change has resulted also in a change in his demeanor he said.

He is very proud that in 35 years with leading retailers and brands, he has had only 1 direct report resign on him. He was clearly pained when he noted the firing of an executive who had been causing many problems because of his behavior.

Another piece of advice to the students was to make the team really comfortable and challenged and to encourage them.

He also emphasized the critical attribute of curiosity and, once, you lose that, you are done - I could not agree more.

He is a huge fan of strategic planning and it was nice to see him mention a former faculty member, long-retired, Professor George Odiorne, who Marc said was a true mentor him. Odiorne was renowned for all his work and books on Management by Objectives. Marc emphasized that you need to know where you want to be down the road, know where you are now, and then figure out the route to get there. I just loved all the transportation analogies!

Something else that he said, which also very much resonated with me, is that too much change may be unhealthy for a company. Indeed, a new leader may come in and, without knowing all the people and why they were hired and the work that they have done, may decide to reorganize, etc. History is important and so is the history of a company or any organization including a business school or university.

Marc Schnedier emphasized that he always expected the "A" game from everyone. Timeliness is very important and he expects everyone in a meeting "to play," so always come prepared, have the facts, and have the highest standards for your work. He also reminded students of the importance of saying "Thank you!" and, if need be, to apologize and to be sincere about it. A student asked about his interviews when he was on the job market as a student and he told of his experience at United Technologies and the lessons learned from that interview. he had not been sufficiently prepared and though that they made planes and not engines.

It was very interesting for the students to hear about the specializing of production in different countries and he did say that about 95% of the products at his company are produced in Asia; the rest in Europe (Italy and even Portugal). Certain countries have refined the skill of producing particular products. He highlighted Vietnam and shoe production, for example, and, of course, noted design and Italy. He emphasized the impact of finance on supply chains and sourcing and although the strength of the US dollar is great for American tourists abroad, it is not so good for retailers in the US who need purchases by those in other countries. Furthermore, the US is a less attractive place for shopping for tourists now because of the strength of the dollar.

He answered students' questions on organizational change, on whether one should take the easier or more challenging tasks, even whether one should pursue an MBA? He spoke highly of education and its importance. I also very much appreciated that he talked about the meaning of CSR from human rights to community service and the environment. He stated that CSR is good business and good behavior.  He mentioned that even modes of transportation might be selected based on minimizing the environmental impact - yes! I have done work with collaborators on fashion supply chains, including sustainability aspects, and this is what we also see in our research studies:
Fashion Supply Chain Network Competition with Ecolabelling, Anna Nagurney, Min Yu, and Jonas Floden, in Sustainable Fashion Supply Chain Management: From Sourcing to Retailing, T.-M. Choi and T.C.E. Cheng, Editors, Springer (2015) pp 61-84.

In the discussions, he also emphasized how bright the millennial generation is and I agree. That it is why it is such a pleasure to be their Professor!

Many, many thanks for Mr. Marc Schneider for coming to the Isenberg School today! A student after class told him and me that this was the best guest lecture that he has ever been to while a student at UMass Amherst. Now, that makes a Professor's Day!