Blake Krueger and Brendan Hoffman.

Brendan Hoffman will be back in the corner office at the end of the year, stepping in as chief executive officer of Wolverine Worldwide

Hoffman, 52, joined Wolverine as president and CEO-designee in September and will take the reins from Blake Krueger, who is capping his 14-year run as CEO by becoming executive chairman. 

The post — atop a branded powerhouse that’s in the midst of transitioning from a wholesale-heavy model to one with a stronger direct-to-consumer focus — will let Hoffman draw on his diverse background. Before Wolverine, he was CEO of the publicly traded Vince Holding Corp. and The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. as well as CEO of Lord & Taylor and Neiman Marcus Direct, where he grew neimanmarcus.com and launched bergdorfgoodman.com in the early days of online. 

It’s a résumé that includes some retail, some wholesale, some digital — and he’ll be able to use it all at Wolverine, which expects to log sales in excess of $2.2 billion this year and counts Merrell, Saucony, Sperry, Hush Puppies and Wolverine among its brands. 

While most of the consumer world made a hard pivot to digital during the pandemic, Hoffman said Wolverine was already moving into d-to-c mode when he sat down with Krueger just before the U.S. lockdown started in March 2020. 

“I was pleased to have that discussion with Blake and some of the board members prior to the pandemic,” Hoffman said in a joint interview with Krueger. “They had been thinking about this and starting the process, recognizing the need to bring in someone from the outside. It’s great that it’s not the new guy coming in and saying, ‘These are the changes we needed to make.’ Blake has already plowed that field. I’m really set up for success here.”

The timing of the succession is being set just as employees go back to the company’s Rockford, Mich., headquarters and focus anew on the future, which is starting to come into focus in the U.S. as vaccinations help get people back out of their homes to settle into new routines. 

Hoffman has seen fast and furious change online — Instagram wasn’t founded until two years after he left Neiman Marcus — but the evolution was supercharged all the more during the pandemic.

Now the online world is charging ahead to points unknown and even faster as the next generation of consumers comes into its own. “We don’t know where they are going,” he said. “We have to be prepared for them to lead us to where they’re going and to be there very quickly.”  

To react fast and follow the younger generation, Wolverine is investing — in people, artificial intelligence, IT systems and, potentially, acquisitions. 

And Hoffman seems to be pretty wide open when it comes to wheeling and dealing. 

He said Wolverine’s hunt would be informed by “what can expand this company, whether it be different categories, like apparel, that we can accelerate getting into [or by adding] digital capabilities and a more digitally native brand.” The company could also look to expand on its global base. 

Already, Wolverine is a deal maker. 

Krueger led the company’s acquisitions of Merrell, Saucony, Sperry, Stride Rite, Keds and Chaco and saw distribution expand to more than 170 countries. 

The outgoing CEO said Hoffman brought in the right experiences and was a good fit for the company as it looks to its next growth chapter. 

“We needed someone with that kind of cultural carpe diem” attitude, Krueger said. 

When he joined Wolverine in 1993, when the company was under financial stress and needed some help. 

Looking back at his time as CEO, Krueger said he wished he moved a little faster on some things. 

And speed is something very much on his mind now.

He pinned the changes reshaping the consumer on technology. 

“This is a power the consumer never really asked for, but it was placed in the consumers’ hands,” he said. “In today’s world, you’ve got to be ready to have a dialogue with your consumer, interact with your consumer whenever they want. It requires different capabilities, a new skill set. It’s about agility and it’s about being closer to your consumer.

“The baton is being passed at an opportune time,” Krueger said of the CEO switch. “Our brands right now have a lot of momentum and we’re on a bit of a roll. The company’s going to be in great hands and I’ll be around to continue to give a little bit of advice.”

 

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