By
with contributions from Debra Borchardt
 on October 5, 2016
North Face store

For VF Corp., a new era is about to begin as Eric Wiseman gets ready to hand the reins over to Steven E. Rendle.

Wiseman, the current chief executive officer, will remain the company’s chairman and his title will change to executive chairman on Jan. 1. Rendle, 57, is currently president and chief operating officer.

The changeover follows a disciplined, yet formulaic, succession plan at the company. Wiseman was named chief operating offer of VF in March 2006 and later named ceo-designate in October 2007, succeeding Mackey J. McDonald in January 2008. Likewise, Rendle was named president and chief operating officer in June 2015. Wednesday’s announcement of his promotion is also in October, with his succession to Wiseman having a Jan. 1 effective date.

Wiseman, like his predecessor McDonald, will follow the pattern of handing the reins over at age 60 and staying on as chairman to ensure a successful transition. McDonald remained chairman for eight months after Wiseman’s appointment as ceo, eventually retiring in August 2008, at which time Wiseman added the chairman’s title.

On Wednesday, Wiseman said, “As you’d expect of VF, and with full credit to our board of directors, we have a long-standing, rigorous and successful approach to succession planning. We’ve been working since 2008 to identify and prepare the right person to succeed me when the time comes. That time is now.”

Wiseman and Rendle were not available for further comment.

But Rendle’s appointment indicates what is likely to be an increasing emphasis on brand innovation at VF, which in the past has been known for building its group through acquisitions and steady brand stewardship.

The group had already started down that path under Wiseman when, in 2013 VF created its Global Jeanswear Innovation Center — it has three locations in total — that work on driving brand equity and value, as well as innovation.

While Wiseman’s background prior to becoming ceo was in the brand management and marketing side, Rendle’s 16-plus years at the group have been more on the textiles and operations front, overseeing the group’s global supply chain and direct-to-consumer platforms. He currently oversees VF’s business coalitions worldwide for Outdoor & Action Sports, Jeanswear, Imagewear and Sportswear, giving him responsibility for most of the group’s largest brands, including The North Face, Wrangler, Lee, Nautica and Timberland.

Rendle has a degree in kinesiology from the University of Washington. He serves on the board of Advanced Functional Fabrics of America Inc., which works to enable a manufacturing-based approach to transforming traditional fibers, yarns and fabrics into sophisticated, integrated and networked devices and systems. He’s also a founding board member of the Outdoor Industry Association’s Outdoor Foundation. Wiseman has made no secret of VF’s desire to make more acquisitions. He also has set aggressive growth targets for the company and in June 2013, unveiled a strategy to reach $17 billion in revenues and $18 in earnings per share by 2017. Last year, VF had revenues of $12.38 billion. Wall Street seemed to take a muted reaction to the upcoming change in management at the largest apparel group in the U.S. Shares of VF on Wednesday slipped 2.6 percent to close at $54.71 in Big Board trading, but then inched up 0.9 percent to $55.19 in after-market trading.

J.P. Morgan’s Matthew R. Boss has an “Overweight” rating on the company’s shares, noting that a growth plan review is likely in 2017, with double-digit bottom-line focus. “We see the January 2017 transition at the helm providing management the opportunity to set a new long-term plan,” Boss said.

It is unlikely Rendle will make drastic changes. VF’s top management has always taken a low-key, steady approach to growth, making it perennially one of the best-managed companies in the industry. Wiseman closely followed McDonald’s approach, and Rendle is likely to do the same.

Still, Wiseman has left his mark on the group. At the time he took over, year-end revenues for 2007 were $7.22 billion and the U.S. economy was starting to weaken. The American economy headed into the global recession in 2008, with subsequent years seeing volatile swings in the equity markets and a slowdown in consumer spending, not to mention changing consumer preferences for where they shop and how much they spend. The ceo has led a team that has adapted to those challenges, opening more retail stores for some of its brands while also innovating on the digital front.

Under Wiseman’s watch, VF also made what has been termed a game-changer deal via its $2.2 billion acquisition of Timberland LLC in September 2011.

At the same time, VF continues to readjust its portfolio of brands. In July, the company sold its contemporary brands businesses, which include Seven For All Mankind and Splendid/Ella Moss, for $120 million to Delta Galil Industries Ltd. In April 2012, it sold its majority stake in John Varvatos Enterprises Inc. to Lion Capital.

In an interview in July, Wiseman said, “Over the last decade, we regularly look into the future and try to shape our company to be successful over the next five to 10 years.” He explained that the executive team eyeballs all components of the business, from technology to geographies its businesses should be in. “We make our choices based on what we think should be the shape of VF [down the road],” he said, adding that from that vantage point comes additional decisions ranging from what countries VF should invest in to analyzing whether brands still fit into the core portfolio, as well as “what we might want to acquire to be a robust company.”

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