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Lands’ End of a Very Short Chapter

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAhpAAAAJDIxNmRjZDJkLTdiYjgtNDdhMC1iZTI0LTY5NmVhZjc1ZTgzNAAccording to the 2010 census, Dodgeville, Wisconsin had 4,693 residents. Aside from farming, Dodgeville’s main industry is the corporate headquarters of Lands’ End with approximately 6,000 employees.

Full disclosure, I am a big fan of Lands’ End products. They are uncomplicated, generally unembellished and very functional. Recently Fortune magazine said the company is known for their “casual American style.” Not for everyone, every day, but certainly a go-to place for many.

One could not find more of a polar opposite in clothing than luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana. Beautiful, complicated and often idealistic! Full disclosure again, there is a Dolce & Gabbana store up the street from where I live in Manhattan and as such I walk by often. I always stop to admire the latest and greatest from this most fashionable of brands.

As in many industries, the fashion world can be segmented according to cost, quality, exclusivity, and target market. Lands’ End and Dolce & Gabbana are basically at opposite ends of the spectrum for all of these. As such when I learned yesterday that Lands’ End CEO Federica Marchionni was stepping down after a mere 19 months in the job, I was not at all surprised.

Marchionni came from Dolce & Gabbana where she had spent almost 15 years. Although she did depart for a 9 month stint at Ferrari, the culture and style of these very exclusive high priced brands is incomparable to Lands’ End. To make matters worse, Marchionni’s employment agreement with Lands’ End allowed her to keep her primary workplace in New York and avoid moving to Dodgeville. It seems that she worked only one week a month at the company headquarters.

Culture mismatch seems to be loud and clear. However, oftentimes bringing in a leader with a different style and culture can allow a stagnant company to evolve and change directions…to a point. In Lands’ End’s case, the drastic culture mismatch should have been tackled from the get go. Marchionni should not only have moved to Dodgeville, but she should have immersed herself in the town, its people, activities and culture. This would have built relationships and trust and gone a long way towards allowing her to achieve buy-in on her vision and the changes she was attempting to make. Instead she stayed in New York City sending the 6,000 employees and residents from in and around Dodgeville a subtle but unambiguous message.

In all of the noise surrounding Marchionni’s departure and the scrutiny on her, perhaps we should also remember that that she did not put herself in the job at Lands’ End. There was a board and undoubtedly an Executive Search firm. It is incumbent on these individuals to make careful, risk mitigated decisions. And perhaps even more importantly to do the hard and almost endless work of onboarding and providing support so that the decisions that are made have the best chance of leading to success. It does indeed take a village.