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4 Pearls of Wisdom on Growth and Branding From a Liz Claiborne Legend

When McComb arrived at Liz Claiborne, there were dozens of brands under the company’s umbrella. By the time he was through executing his vision, there were only three.

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BY Heidi Zak - 06 Mar 2019

wisdom on growth and branding

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Recently, one of our board members, William McComb, came in to talk with our team at ThirdLove.

McComb spoke at length about what it takes to really understand your customer and your position in the market. He was named CEO of Liz Claiborne back in 2006 and immediately began breathing new life into the conglomerate by selling off many of its brands and focusing narrowly on a select few, so it was insightful to hear from his position of expertise.

He's had a fascinating career and found success in a variety of industries. Before his work with the Liz Claiborne brand, he actually worked for Johnson & Johnson, where he helped revitalize the Tylenol brand beginning in 1999. So, needless to say, it was a treat for the team to meet him.

Here are some of the best insights he shared about growing a strong brand and team:

1. Know when to reconfigure.

When McComb arrived at Liz Claiborne, there were dozens of brands under the company's umbrella. By the time he was through executing his vision, there were only three.

Instead of trying to make all of them work, he took the pulse of the organization and figured out which brands really showed promise. The brands he eventually chose--Kate Spade, Juicy Couture, and Lucky Brand--all showed three key qualities:

  1. Market Potential
  2. Brand Ethos
  3. Unique Products

But identifying those elements wasn't the only challenge. McComb talked at length about how to bring your team along with you when you have to make hard decisions--like choosing which brands to keep and which to divest.

The key is to inform the team of the strategy and manage both internal and external communications properly. If people understand the strategy, like getting back to basics and focusing on brands with potential, they'll be much more willing to get on board with tough changes.

2. Overinvest in owning your own distribution.

Originally, Liz Claiborne was at the beck and call of department stores. When the stores were thriving, so was the brand. But when the department stores began to tank, so did the company's ability to control pricing, promotions, and their own destiny.

McComb eventually sold the Liz Claiborne label to J.C. Penney, and the entity controlling Kate Spade, Juicy Couture, and Lucky Brand became Fifth & Pacific Companies. The strategy: to establish direct consumer retail bases, brick and mortar outlets, and digital businesses to help the three brands scale. By the time it was all said and done, the trifecta looked more like modern direct-to-consumer brands than business-to-consumer brands.

Most importantly, they no longer had to worry about the shaky future of massive department stores.

3. Realize that growth presents opportunities.

Someone on our team asked McComb what he would tell his younger self if he had the opportunity to go back and offer career advice.

He said there were times when he didn't recognize opportunities that were being presented because he was caught up in the details. It would have been nice to know enough to keep his eye on the larger picture.

He attributed the early part of his career success to being at a company that was growing incredibly quickly. That growth creates challenges at times, but also the opportunity to step up and take on more and more responsibility. What matters is being in a company that's doing great work where you can learn and grow.

If you're in a company that is scaling and you work extremely hard, you're going to have opportunities for growth and promotion.

4. Look for people who inspire you and give you energy.

There are people who give you energy, and then there are people who sap your energy.

You know who I'm talking about--the person who exhausts you because it always seems like the world is ending every time you speak with them.

McComb is the complete opposite. Whenever I get off the phone or walk out of a meeting with him, I feel energized. I have more inspiration and clarity because he talks passionately about everything he does and is always so happy to share advice. I actually told my team that they should aspire to be like him in that sense. Try to bring those ideas and that energy to whatever you do.

That infectious energy is a huge part of what makes him such a great board member, and it's why he's been able to build a tremendous track record in business.

 

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