You Want Change, Sit in the Same Office

On Monday, Lands’ End announced that its CEO had “stepped down” effective immediately, after only 19 months on the job.

There will be plenty of time for all the post-mortems to be written and dissected. However, I will chime in right now about a glaring aspect of Federica Marchionni’s abrupt departure.

It seems there was a serious disconnect between what she wanted to accomplish and where she was physically located. And that provides an important lesson reminder.

Credit: Lands End

Credit: Lands End

As background, Ms. Marchionni was tasked with evolving the company and the brand. Note this statement from the Chairman of the Board when she was hired:

“We are confident she will build upon the Company’s legacy as a classic American brand with a keen eye toward its future as a global lifestyle brand.”

That implies change. According to The Wall Street Journal, “she tried to fashion broad changes at the catalog retailer.” But:

“Despite those efforts, the 44-year-old CEO was never able to get Lands’ End’s employees to buy into her vision, according to people familiar with the situation. A point of contention was that she only spent about one week a month at the company’s Dodgeville, Wis., headquarters, preferring instead to work out of an office in New York’s garment district.”

This arrangement was sanctioned by the company, according to the Associated Press:

“Her employment agreement specified that she would not have to move to the small southwestern Wisconsin city and that her primary workplace would be in New York.”

No doubt the CEO spending the majority of her time in New York City was not well-received by her colleagues in Dodgeville. When you’re trying to achieve change, being 1,000 miles away from the core team 75% of the time is the wrong formula.

Source: Google Maps

Source: Google Maps

Change is hard. It requires hands-on leadership, personal attention and constant interaction. It’s difficult to earn respect and gain trust over the telephone or on video conference.

I speak from experience. I relocated from New Jersey to work in Decatur, IL, helping global ingredients manufacturer Tate & Lyle build and develop a new marketing organization geared around end-user understanding. I would not have been successful if I hadn’t been on the ground working hand-in-hand with my colleagues. Period.

Maybe Ms. Marchionni would have had a different experience if she reversed the time spent between Dodgeville and New York City. Or, maybe the challenges were so complex it wouldn’t have mattered.

For the rest of us, the lesson is clear. Sit with the business. Forge personal connections. Be part of the team. Make it happen – together.

Harvey Chimoff is a versatile marketing and business team leader who believes good marketing sells. Contact him at StratGo Marketing, a “nuts and bolts” strategic marketing resource.

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