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How to Create a Collaborative Yet Autonomous Work Environment

Dansko’s president, Jim Fox, recently spoke to Footwear News about creating a collaborative yet autonomous work environment at the comfort-shoe company, and what he’s looking forward to in the years to come.

Dansko Jim Fox

Dansko President Jim Fox.

What keeps me up at night:
“Seeing how retail is going to evolve in the future and not having 100 percent certainty about it. We’ve had lots of success with our retail partners over the years, but the face of retail is changing so rapidly. Everybody is figuring out how to adjust to that.”

Biggest change in the industry:
“In comfort footwear, the product life cycle has shortened since I first started. The expectation for us was that certain shoes had a longer life span, and it was only in fashion where [collections] churned in and out. Now consumers are ready for newness more quickly across the board. You have to freshen things up.”

My management style:
“I’m a big believer in providing the people I work with as much autonomy as possible. They all know a lot more than I do about their area, so they  don’t need me micromanaging. It’s really important to develop trust in them and figure out the best way that I can be helpful, which is often helping to set goals and then getting out of the way. We have a very collaborative environment here at Dansko.”

dansko Loralie

Dansko’s fall 2017 Loralie Mary Jane.

Why I’m in the shoe business:
“It’s a direct result of my college experience. The guy across the hall my freshman year ended up being one of the founders of And1. They were looking for someone with financial expertise, and I ended up being the CFO there. That’s how I got to Dansko, too, as the CFO. Having been here for nearly 10 years, I became president in January 2016.”

What I’m looking forward to in the next five years:
“Developing the Dansko brand. Our expectation is to be the leader in clogs, but we have a ton to offer in other areas of footwear. The other thing is to continue to develop a relationship with the consumer. The brand has  avid fans, so growing those connections and spreading that excitement to other people [is top of mind].”

My biggest mentors:
“A lot of Dansko’s collaborative nature comes from [our CEO, Mandy Cabot]. She’s a big believer in teams and consensus, so there’s a lot I’ve learned from her. David Murphy, who retired from Dansko, was a good person to watch and understand. David DiPasquale, who is on the board of directors, is someone who’s provided guidance. I try to pick up something from everybody here.”

Dansko wedge bootie.

Dansko women’s Sheena bootie, $160.

The benefits of being an employee-owned company:
“We became 100 percent ESOP about five years ago. Relative to other places I’ve been, people are thinking more about decisions and seeing how things fit into the big picture. I definitely see the difference in terms of the culture that we have here and the questions the employees ask. You’re not going to get employees acting like a hedge-fund manager or that type of shareholder — [they have] from a very thoughtful and balanced point of view.”

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