BREAKFAST WITH THE BOSS – THE JONES GROUP, NY

Wes Card – CEO, The Jones Group, Inc.
Tues June 26, 2012

Although Wes Card started out as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, he is now CEO of one of the largest companies in the apparel industry, The Jones Group, Inc. The company has sales of just under $4 billion a year, and owns 30 brands, including Anne Klein, Nine West, and Rachel Roy. As both a retailer as well as a wholesaler, the company operates over 1000 stores in the U.S. and sells to department stores from Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue to Macy’s and Wal-Mart.

“I’ve been in this company for almost 23 years – CEO for almost 5 years – and it went by in a breeze,” said Wes. His first advice for us? “Pick a trade any trade, and just get started. Don’t fret too much. It’s the same with choosing colleges.” Under the counsel of a friend who told him accounting and management was where the money was, Wes graduated with an accounting degree. “I later realized,” he said, “that accounting wasn’t for me. But what I did get out of it was a solid foundation.”

And it’s a tough world out there. “You’re starting out with people who are just as smart and focused as you are. Somehow, you need to find out how to outperform,” he said. At big firms, you are formally rated on how you’re performing. “And if you’re not at the level of ‘Capable of Rapid Advancement,” there is no guarantee that you won’t be the next one to be booted out of the company,” he said.

So how to outperform? “Once, I studied the Railroad Audit Guide like it was the Bible and handwrote the 40-page memo by hand. Unfortunately, I over-delivered, but the experience really taught me the difference between excelling and just doing your job,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just about preparation – forcing yourself to do extra research on Sunday night when you really don’t want to. You really have to force yourself out of your comfort zone if you want to be a star.”

But on the flip side, having fun and staying healthy is just as important. “You have to have fun,” he said, “the higher the pressure, the more important that is. If you can’t relax and enjoy it, you will just burn out. And staying fit critical.”

Before he was CEO, Wes was CFO of The Jones Group. “At the start of each meeting, everyone immediately focuses on ‘number one,’ and you are asked your opinion on everything. When I was CFO, no one asked me where I thought the economy was going!” he laughed. “It was a big transition for me, and when I became CEO, I reached out to the CEOs of all our major customers. They were very supportive of me.”

The best part about his job? “My biggest responsibility – and pride – comes from knowing that the livelihoods of my 5000 employees are dependent on how well I’m doing my job. There are always tough decisions you have to make, but we’re all in this together,” he said.

Key Lessons and Takeaways
• Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you start. Just make sure to start somewhere.
• Seek out ways to outperform, but it’s also important to have fun and stay fit.
• Just like laughter, negativity and a bad attitude is contagious.
• Retail is much harder than wholesale. In a recession, the wholesalers get some of their money back. The retailers, however, are on their own.
• Learn to get over your fears. The only way to do it is to practice it again and again until you are no longer intimidated by it.
• Build relationships and engage with people – “when things are down but you’ve got relationships, it’s a lot easier.” Learn to golf, and go to every charity dinner.
• If you are given X-Y-Z to do, find out how you can do it A-Z.

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