By  on June 16, 2009

It’s back to fundamentals as companies reset priorities and slash costs to cope with the recession.

“We were forced to make some really fast, very hard changes,” said Adam Lippes, chief executive officer and creative director of Adam.

Lippes was among the participants at a Fashion Group International “frontliners” forum last Wednesday on executive reinvention in the new business environment, hosted by the Karen Harvey consulting group.

Although Adam cut personnel and general overhead, and eliminated men’s wear from the collection, “We are doing better,” he said. “We have spent more time on the clothing and focused on the customer” while strengthening Adam’s image as a women’s brand. “It’s helped me to really sit down and focus my time.”

Others on the panel were Brendan Hoffman, president and chief executive officer of Lord & Taylor where the event was held; Jill Granoff, ceo of Kenneth Cole Productions, and Stephanie George, executive vice president of Time Inc. They outlined the central characteristics of the new environment, how their companies have changed and their views on talent.

“From a customer perspective, it’s all about value,” Granoff said. “In the past it was about desire. Now it’s about need.” At Kenneth Cole, “We used to focus on the P&L. Now it’s the balance sheet. It’s all about cash and inventory.”

Granoff emphasized that “the important thing is to communicate and inspire the team,” and said Kenneth Cole Productions holds quarterly town hall meetings after earnings calls, as well as staging roundtables and conducting brand surveys.

Hoffman said when he joined Lord & Taylor in October, after serving as ceo of Neiman Marcus Direct, “It was very clear we needed to focus on cash and the balance sheet. The first thing was getting the expense structure in line with the new reality. Twenty-five percent of the expenses were eliminated in about three months...Now we are able to start looking forward.”

He said he was proud to have restructured the management team using executives already on board. For those looking to succeed in the new business environment, “You better make yourself essential” to the company, Hoffman said. And for those leading the company, “You want to prioritize what’s going to move the needle and don’t try to get everything done. It’s really about working smarter.”

The top priority, George said, is “focusing on talent” and specifically “people interested in playing on the field, not sitting on the sidelines...You never want to lose that confidence. That’s the most important characteristic we have as business people. It’s clearly about being positive.”

George said change has been a constant in her nine years at Time Inc. “You have to look at your businesses continuously and adapt. You should be doing it all along. Usually, it’s not easy. It can be painful, but at the end of the day it builds talent.”

Citing the need for a team approach, Granoff said, “You can’t do it alone.” Granoff’s “A team” would be those that get results, don’t merely demonstrate they can put a lot of energy into efforts and activities, and those that have longevity with a company.

“In way or another, you have all gone back to your core,” Harvey said to the panel.

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