For leaders at brands that are part of a portfolio, like the various brands owned by Gap, their fellow brands offer a helpful resource: counterparts in the same positions. Increasingly, leaders at these portfolio brands are forming groups with their counterparts — i.e., the CMOs of every brand — to share thoughts, strategies and tips to help crack the tough problems facing fashion brands today.
Mary Alderete, CMO of Banana Republic, said this type of collaboration with her fellow CMOs has become an essential part of how she strategizes against trends that affect all the brands under Gap. It gives her access to other experienced executives in her position, at brands that are not in any direct competition with each other.
“It’s interesting to work in a portfolio,” Alderete said. “You can create a little community between peers. We have sort of a ‘CMO Club’ that’s really great. The CMO of Gap, CMO of Athleta, CMO of Old Navy. Sheila [Shekar Pollak, CMO of Athleta] is great to work with. It’s awesome because, when I was at Levi’s, I couldn’t call Gap and ask, ‘What are you guys doing about the down-cycle in denim right now?’ But now, I can call and ask, ‘How did you guys crack that traffic trend?’ or ‘What are you doing in partnerships right now?'”
San Francisco-based Alderete was in New York last week meeting with members of the Gap team, with the intention of bringing Banana Republic learnings around merging online and offline retail to Gap. Notably, Gap’s most recent CMO Alegra O’Hare left the company in January.
Alderete said these meetings have led to a number of new ideas, like a pop-up from the newly Gap-acquired children’s brand Janie and Jack in the Banana Republic flagship that’s running right now.
Wolverine Worldwide is another company with multiple brands in its portfolio, including Sperry, Keds and Saucony. Gillian Meek, president of Keds, said the company has several “councils” where leadership from various sides of the business meet with their counterparts at the other brands. Meek meets with the presidents of the other brands while the heads of marketing, sales and product all have their own councils.
Because most of Wolverine Worldwide’s brands are centered in two locations (Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Boston, Massachusetts), these meetings often happen in person but are sometimes conducted over video.
“We talk about everything from sourcing strategy and talent acquisition to how we can drive growth across individual brands,” Meek said. “My day-to-day job is focused just on Keds, but I can learn so much from people at Sperry, for example, who are in my same role. That’s especially because a lot of the other brands are comparable and facing a lot of the same challenges.”
Meek said she’s also in frequent informal contact with president-level counterparts at the other brands, which can be helpful in a wide variety of situations.
“Oh, I text my counterparts every day,” Meek said. “One of my closest colleagues is Rick [Blackshaw, president of Sperry and former president of Keds.] His business is a bit bigger than mine, but he’s right there in Boston with us, and we have similar dynamics. In many cases, we work with the same manufacturers and sell to the same retailers, so we might team up on a meeting with one of them.”
Both women said that the collaboration across brands is not strictly enforced. They each have different customers and are given the freedom to target their customer in whichever way is most effective for them. (“In theory,” Meek joked.)
“But we’re all independent and have our own approaches,” Alderete said. “Athleta is selling athletic apparel for women with this ‘Power of She’ mantra, and we have a different product, different customer and different needs, even though we overlap on a few things. But sometimes it’s just fun to talk to another CMO who’s trying to build a business because it’s not always easy.”