WASHINGTON — Paul Charron, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Liz Claiborne Inc., who is credited with transforming the sportswear firm, is trying his hand at a new kind of endeavor — this time it’s on the board of a textile company.
Charron has been elected a member of Unifi Inc.’s board of directors. Unifi is a publicly traded multinational manufacturing company that produces and sells textured and value-added polyester and nylon yarns.
“We are excited that Paul has agreed to join our board, bringing his extensive experience and insights from years of working with leading companies on marketing and strategic growth planning and implementation,” said William L. Jasper, chairman and ceo of Unifi. “Paul not only expands the skill sets of our board and its ability to provide strategic direction for the company; he will also be an invaluable asset and resource for our entire management team.”
Jasper said Charron will help provide guidance and mentoring to Unifi’s management team as “we continue our efforts to plot Unifi’s future growth and sustained profitability that will enhance long-term shareholder value.”
In an interview with WWD, Charron said he is starting on his “next career.”
He is best known in the fashion industry for his 12-year career at Liz Claiborne, which he is credited with being the driving force behind and transforming into a $4.8 billion multibrand, multicategory and multichannel business. Charron left Liz Claiborne at the end of 2006, when his contract expired.
Charron is also no stranger to the U.S. textile and apparel industry, having held positions at Cannon Mills in the Eighties and also overseeing Vanity Fair Mills when he was with VF Corp. in the early Nineties.
A veteran of the fashion industry, Charron brings a global, strategic outlook, with a keen eye on domestic expansion, to the table at Unifi.
“I bring a front-end orientation,” he said, pointing to extensive experience in sales and marketing.
“The Unifi story is that they are shifting from maximizing both manufacturing and sales efficiency and they’re trying drive global strategic and profitable growth,” Charron said. “I’ve spent a good of deal time in my career helping to grow companies. They didn’t bring me on the board for my manufacturing know-how or my finance know-how, but for my exposure to growth that is global, strategic and profitable, which are areas of focus for the company.”
Charron said he believes Unifi wants to get closer to its customers and the ultimate consumer, which he said “will help them channel their R&D capability, which is significant, and help them be more responsive to the people they sell to.”
“The whole idea of getting close to your customer and close to building consumer insights is a powerful one and one that we tried to use at Liz and is certainly frequently used in the packaged goods space at companies like Campbell’s and Proctor & Gamble,” he said.
Charron said Unifi’s Repreve recycled fiber brand is critical, particularly in light of the Millennial generation’s emphasis on sustainability. Unifi broke ground last July on an 85,000-square-foot addition to its Repreve Recycling Center in Yadkinville, N.C. It was a $10 million investment that is expected to create jobs and increase capacity by up to 60 million pounds annually.
“Everybody wants something that is distinctive or unique about their product,” Charron said. “Certainly Repreve is a topical product right now and I think that people at Unifi will tell you that there is a very important thrust and it certainly would resonate with the Millennials that everybody is trying to capture, whether you are Nike or Macy’s or any one of a number of specialty stores.”
Unifi has faced price and currency challenges recently. Its second-quarter earnings dropped 31 percent, but its strong domestic texturing business and premier value-added products such as Repreve helped curb the decline.
“The way to address problems is with innovation and streamlining; being faster, smarter and better, which is what we tried to do at Liz. I realize Liz is getting further and further in my rearview mirror but I still find that a lot of things we employed still have resonance,” Charron said. “It is a question of focus and execution and if you are focused on the right thing and execute it precisely, shareholders will appreciate the outcome.”
Charron has been an independent consultant since 2013 in the area of consumer products, fashion and retail, with “a particular focus on growth strategies, management structure and the mentoring of senior management teams,” according to a filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission. His clients have included major publicly held companies and several portfolio companies of major private equity firms.
Prior to establishing his own consultancy business, Charron served as senior adviser to global private equity firm Warburg Pincus from 2008 to 2012.