NEW YORK — Matt Rubel, who remade Cole Haan into a fashion-savvy and trend-driven firm, is leaving to become chief executive officer of Payless ShoeSource.
Steven Douglass, chairman and ceo of Payless for more than ten years, said Thursday he would depart in July after a transition of leadership to Rubel. In a statement, Douglass said, “The board of directors and I have mutually agreed that the time is right for me to leave the company and pursue new personal and business interests and opportunities.”
Payless, based in Topeka, Kan., has 4,646 stores worldwide and had $2.66 billion in sales last year. It is known for its value-driven footwear.
Rubel, 47, who also couldn’t be reached for comment, had been chairman and ceo of Cole Haan since 1999, when it was a dusty leather goods company known for its comfortable shoes. A turning point for 77-year-old brand, a Nike Inc. subsidiary since 1988, came in 2000 when Nike granted Cole Haan exclusive rights to use its famed Air technology — based on encapsulating gas in a chamber of a running shoe’s sole — for women’s and men’s footwear.
By fusing fashion, technology and comfort under the creative direction of Gordon Thompson, Cole Haan earned credibility and went full force into handcrafted women’s and men’s footwear, accessories and outerwear. Cole Haan’s footwear and accessories are produced in-house. G-III Apparel Group has held the license to produce outerwear and leather apparel since February 2000.
Rubel also stepped up the firm’s marketing and began advertising in fashion publications to build brand awareness. Cole Haan, based in Yarmouth, Maine, has 48 U.S stores and a Web site for e-commerce.
In March 2000, Rubel told WWD, “We want the line to be diverse. We’re definitely moving beyond being the home of the loafer.”
Nike doesn’t break out sales of Cole Haan, which is reported as part of its “other” business category, including Converse, Hurley and Starter. In the nine months ended Feb. 28, this business segment had sales of $1.21 billion.
Nike founder and chairman Philip H. Knight said in a statement, “Matt leaves Cole Haan a more vibrant and energized business with a very strong future.”
The firm did not name a successor to Rubel.
“I think it’s a fabulous opportunity for Matt,” said Robert Kerson, who runs the executive search firm bearing his name, who knows Rubel personally and professionally, having once placed him at J. Crew. “The business needs what Matt brings to the table, which is selection — the board of directors made a good decision with Matt Rubel.”
Shares of Payless hit a 52-week high of $17.15 prior to the announcement on Thursday. The stock closed at $16.63.