Stepping into the power of doing good has a ripple effect, particularly in the footwear segment. In a recent webinar with FN, Women In Power: The Power of Doing Good, female executives from footwear brands discussed leading their teams during trying times, how they give back, and moving forward with a purposeful approach.
FN’s Executive Editor, Katie Abel, sat down with Anne Cavassa, President at Saucony; Nancy Youssef, Chief Corporate Development Officer at Soles4Souls; and Kathy Forstadt, Director of Merchandise Initiatives at Zappos.com, to glean insights into their leadership strategies, and how they leverage chaos into opportunity. The webinar was sponsored by Saucony and Soles4Souls.
Abel began by asking the panelists to walk her through their personal experiences with leading teams during uncertain times, and how they’ve overcome many “new and unexpected challenges” stemming from the pandemic and recent waves of violence across the country and world.
Cavassa said that “We’ve been in the midst of chaos for quite some time, and I think at Saucony, and for myself, we try to think about it like there’s opportunity in this.” Being in crisis mode for so long helped the brand embrace and expect uncertainty, Cavassa explained, which ultimately allowed Saucony to “move forward with purpose.”
“There’s no right answer,” she said. “It’s really about being responsive and strategic, and so that as you’re managing the immediate crisis, you’re also thinking about the longer term.” Cavassa noted that having a resilient and growth mindset that sees beyond the immediate and into the future of where Saucony wants to go as a brand, has helped propel them forward.
At Zappos.com, Forstadt encourages “being open and available” for employees and be there to listen, and Youssef, too, places emphasis on support and “carving out time to talk, and space to communicate.”
When Abel asked about return to office, which she notes is “a topic everyone has been working hard to address,” she asked, “What works and what doesn’t? How do you manage a hybrid situation?”
Forstadt said that Zappos.com “focuses on the individual” to determine the best work/life balance for each person and added that the company is hiring remote workers, and “tapping into that talent.”
Conversely, Soles4Souls went fully remote during the pandemic, which Youssef describes as “an iterative process.” The organization organizes quarterly in-person meetings for leadership and emphasizes the importance of finding ways to build community because “everyone loves remote, but misses being together.” She added that the company started virtual happy hours, schedules virtual “open lunch hours,” where teammates can pop in and have lunch together, and sends cards and notes to employees expressing appreciation for their work.
“Flexibility is at the core of what’s here to stay,” Cavassa said. “Some people really want to be here, and some people really need to be elsewhere.” Collectively, the brands conveyed a resounding emphasis on compassion, connectivity, and support.
And when Abel asked how each leader is working to empower people during crisis moments through their organizations, Cavassa explained that she has “personally been energized by this topic during COVID-19.”
“Many of us think that philanthropy is all about financial contribution and money, but it’s so much more than that,” she said. “It’s about helping people and changing their lives for the better,” adding that it’s also focused on our time, and enthusiasm.
“We inspire people to live their best life through running,” and that mission led the brand to partner with organizations such as Women in Trail, the Run for Good Foundation, Kids Marathon Foundation and RIDC. It’s all about driving community, Cavassa said. “We aren’t the largest brand out there, but we really pull our weight with what we can do for community.”
For Ukraine relief efforts, Youssef said that the industry really came together for support, explaining that the organization has a partner on the ground in Moldova who is from the Ukraine, and to date, Soles4Souls has sent over seven containers filled with tens of thousands of products. “We’re proud to be a conduit” for support and help, she said.
Youssef also mentioned its 4EveryKid program launched in 2020 that committed to providing new athletic shoes for 1.5 million students that are experiencing homelessness, aged grades 1-12, in U.S. public schools. The program “really galvanized the industry,” she said, adding that many brands came on board for the mission.
For Zappos.com, Forstadt said that the brand “can’t wait” to do more. “We have a lot of opportunity and we’re really just getting into it,” and noted that the brand’s Zappos for Good team supplies a list of organizations and nonprofits companywide, and employees’ donations are matched by Zappos.com.
Internally, “Zapponians” – or Zappos.com employees – can engage in peer-to-peer rewards through its Engage Marketplace and Zollar Program, where employees earn “Zollars” for participating in training or volunteering to help out. Employees can award Zollars to their teammates as a form of recognition, and they can be used in the company’s Zollar Store for products, tickets, charities, etc.
Forstadt added that Zappos.com has a Women in Power group that developed organically, which she described as “a safe space” where women can convene to discuss any topic and focus on how they can work together to elevate one another. “You never know what you’re going to learn or be part of,” Forstadt said.
As far as having a seat at the table and speaking up, Cavassa said that “diverse thought is a good thing,” and that “it’s okay to think differently and in fact, it’s an advantage. Always trust your internal gut and compass – and lean into that voice.”