January 31, 2024


Sure, every company has a CEO, a CFO, a Chief Merchandising Officer, even a lowly Chief Marketing Officer or Chief Operations Officer or Chief Creative Officer ... or even more interesting, a Chief Human Officer or Chief Brand Officer or Chief Customer Officer blah blah blah.

But the real power structure of a company is usually held by a group of individuals.

Three decades ago at Lands' End power was held by merchants, with creative folks having a larger-than-usual chair at the table ... more like a love seat, and finance, they mattered too. Our Marketing Director forced herself into the room by sheer force of will. That was a company that functioned reasonably well.

Eddie Bauer was controlled by Finance and Red Tape.

Nordstrom was controlled by the family (obviously), merchants, and in-store employees. I remember asking to be allowed to speak at a marketing conference. Blake Nordstrom said no, telling me that my job was a "back of the office" job ... he suggested that he loved the work my team did but we were not there to be recognized publicly, we were there to serve.

Have you ever wondered why your ideas go nowhere at your company?

You're probably threatening the power structure of your company.

I wanted a fast computer at Eddie Bauer in 1999. Finance said no. I reminded finance that they didn't know what my skill set was and therefore weren't qualified to say whether I deserved a faster machine and better software. They reminded me that they were Finance and they decided if people spent money or not. I said I'd buy my own computer and connect it to the network. They reminded me that I would not be allowed to connect it to the network. That's power. Finance 1, Kevin 0.

I've always been amazed by my catalog-centric clients ... and the power their paper-partners held. Who do these people think they are? I once created a model to reduce mailings and the Executive said "we'll have to clear this with Monkton Paper (not the real name of the brand)" What? Monkton Paper doesn't get a vote. Visit Dodgeville and the paper folks had an office 1/4th of a mile down the street from Lands' End ... even a decade ago. At Nordstrom the paper guy lived in my community 30 miles away, and I secretly wondered if he moved there to keep an eye on me? (of course he didn't do that ... or did he?). At Lands' End we had access to the private jet if we wanted to visit our printer. There was nothing like a little trip to a corporate airport outside of Warsaw, IN to see the perfect bound printing power of the C.P. Bourg SBM-1 in the wild.

Somebody is going to tell me that I'm an idiot because you needed the SBM-3 to fulfill the needs of a large catalog brand in the early 90s.

Ok, back to reality.

Who possesses all of the power in your brand? If you ever want to do something interesting, these are the folks you need on your side.

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