Following an aggressive search that began when Tom Nathanson of American Capital Strategies (ACS) became acting CEO of Confluence on June 14, 2007, Sue Rechner has been named president and CEO of the company as of Dec. 17.
With more than 15 years of experience in consumer products, Rechner joins Confluence on the heels of a five-year tenure as president of Victorinox Swiss Army Inc., where she also served as CEO of Victorinox Swiss Army Watch and Victorinox Apparel – click here to read an Oct. 23, 2002, SNEWS® story on her appointment as the first female president of that company.
Rechner told SNEWS® she fully realized she’ll be sitting in a seat that has shown a propensity in recent years to either eject its occupants or ignite in metaphorical flames, but she said she’s more than up to the challenge.
“That’s a position I am very comfortable being in,” said Rechner. “Tom (Nathanson) has already commenced the process of re-igniting the strengths of this organization, its culture and commitment to excelling with our manufacturing capabilities. From my perspective, it is now my job to take those things we have identified as our core strengths -- authenticity, heritage, brand recognition, product innovation and manufacturing ability -- and then ensure those things translate into positively affecting the retail community.
“We owe our retailers the commitment to give back to them and make their lives an undeniable success by delivering on time with extremely high-quality products that allow them to be profitable,” added Rechner.
She acknowledged the SNEWS® team has heard all of the above before from far too many predecessors, but said this time was different: “What I think makes me different is that I have been there and done it, and I know what it takes to go from zero to full success. I believe we can get this company back on top of the mountain or I would not have taken this job. Tom and I align philosophically in all areas, and that is also a difference from before I believe.
“We are committed to the same things -- quality of service and products and allowing the culture and passion of an organization to push it forward,” she said. “I see myself in this role as an orchestra leader, taking very talented players and helping them become a cohesive and harmonious organization that is all about making retailers profitable.”
Knowing ACS had invested heavily in Confluence and should expect returns for its investors, we asked Rechner how that might influence her decisions regarding quantity and quality of production.
“I don’t believe American Capital has unreasonable expectations that would make me ever feel compelled to over-produce or to not produce at the highest level of quality. It is about balance, and finding the right balance of product that meets the needs of the customer and the needs of the retailer and the needs of a company for long-term profit.”
Reminding us she had to shut down 2,000 retailers while at Swiss Army to get the company back on track and build it for success with the right retail partners, Rechner said, “Nothing in the next three years will prevent me from building the business properly. When you embrace a long-term approach, which is the only way I know how to do things correctly, you and your retailers are much more profitable. Bottom line, I am under no pressure to over deliver to meet numbers.”
When we asked her about her outdoor passions, she admitted that while she was currently a very active runner and cyclist, her interests were about to change to include more paddlesports. “I am about to live a liquid lifestyle,” said Rechner.
Indeed she is … in every sense of the word.
SNEWS® View: We follow our glowing June 25 story on Tom Nathanson (click here to read ) with yet another WOW. Rechner is the perfect hire from our perspective for this most important position. One key paddlesports dealer told us in the just completed SNEWS® Specialty Retailer Survey: “Of all the boat manufacturers that I deal with, Confluence is still the most difficult, although they are showing signs of improvement in all areas: quality, timely shipping, customer service. Confluence recently accepted all responsibility for the problems they have been having for the past two years and described the steps (to us) that they are taking to make improvements. I am hopeful that they will follow through.” We would say this is yet another sign to that retailer that Confluence is more than just serious about returning to the top. It seems committed to it.
There is little doubt that as the first woman to lead Swiss Army, Rechner, 45, helped re-define a brand portfolio that had grown far too reliant on its venerable line of pocket knives with sales having dipped into the virtual toilet after 2001. Rechner led the successful global re-launch of the Swiss Army watch business, drove the company’s strategy to intensify its focus on core product growth, and leveraged brand strength to grow underperforming product categories. Building on Swiss Army’s deep outdoor roots, Rechner led the introduction of an arsenal of new products and marketing initiatives that significantly contributed to the strength that the brand enjoys today.
While she will not be able to work miracles -- who can these days? -- her long-term view and attitude bodes well for success since she sees herself simply as an orchestra conductor who realizes the only way the music sounds good is with good musicians to lead. She is confident, energetic, inspirational and wants to ensure that Confluence disappears from the “most difficult supplier to do business with” in future SNEWS® surveys.