Top Women in Retail 2018: Fran Horowitz, Chief Executive Officer, Abercrombie & Fitch Co.
To see the full list of this year's Top Women in Retail honorees, click here.
What do you enjoy most about working in the retail industry?
It’s all down to the people. I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of smart, driven people who are incredibly passionate about what they do. This industry is one that’s in a constant state of change, and it naturally tends to attract people who thrive in that type of dynamic work environment. I enjoy the fast-paced nature of retail and the fact that you have to be constantly learning, challenging your own thinking and focused on moving forward. There’s really no such thing as maintaining the status quo in retail. That has always been true, but now more so than ever. I love retail and I believe you must have a real passion for it to be successful in it. I’ve been in this industry for the whole of my working life, and I find there’s always something new and interesting to keep me engaged.
What's the biggest challenge you've faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge and opportunity in my career has been at Abercrombie & Fitch Co (A&F). This company and its namesake brand are a quintessential part of American pop culture, and if you look back over its 125-year history, A&F has always been an innovator and disruptor in the retail industry. Joining the team as Hollister brand president, and subsequently accepting the role of CEO, are not challenges I accepted lightly. There’s a huge sense of personal responsibility for protecting and building on the amazing heritage of this company and leading the team here.
One critical aspect to meeting the challenge our team has taken on is our people. By adding new team members to the organization, we’ve combined the deep institutional knowledge and expertise that made us great with new talent that have different experiences and perspectives. That diversity of background and thinking has made us all stronger and is the foundation for everything we do. With the right people in the right places, we’ve had a laser-like focus on putting the customer at the center of everything we do and every decision we make. As a result, in the space of the past three years, the company has undergone fundamental change, much of it internally focused, but the impact of which you can now see in our marketing, our customer experience, whether in-store or online, our product, and our performance.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Optimistic, collaborative, curious and open. I always strive to foster an environment where everyone feels safe and empowered to share ideas and feedback directly with me, whatever their role. I also spend a lot of time listening to our associates throughout our organization, in stores and throughout our international network. That keeps me in touch with what we’re doing from different viewpoints, what’s working, and where there may be opportunity for improvement.
Our culture here is naturally collaborative and optimistic. We give people a great deal of responsibility and a high degree of autonomy as soon as they’re ready, which can be relatively early in their careers. I expect people to take that responsibility seriously, communicating when support is needed, but always working with colleagues to tackle the challenges they encounter with enthusiasm.
What's the best advice you ever received, and who gave you the advice?
A boss early in my career was Mike Gould, the former CEO of Bloomingdale's. In any conversation with him, it was clear that he actively listened to his team — he sought out and respected our ideas and opinions. Today, I value all my discussions across the entire organization. Whether I’m in a meeting with our board or walking through a store with a manager, listening is key to learning and understanding.
What one new retail technology or trend do you believe will have the biggest impact in 2018, and why?
To me, the most important trend in retail goes back to the basics and “Retail 101” of listening to the customer. We put the customer at the center of everything we do, and it’s critical that we understand the evolving how, when and where they want to interact with our brands.
Much can be accomplished through the data analytics we now have at our fingertips, and the many different touchpoints we have to customers. However, for brands that aren’t simple commodities, retail is fundamentally about human connection and how engagement with our brands makes people feel. For that, there’s no substitute for spending time in stores with customers and associates. Knowing your customer provides you with the insight vital to getting the product, voice and brand experience right and aligned. Intelligent use of data informed by our personal observations and interactions with customers have informed our journey in 2017, and certainly will continue to do so in 2018.
What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
I love spending time with my husband and my children. As my kids have grown, the opportunities to be together aren't as frequent, so when it does happen, we make the most of it. To de-stress and take time for myself, I also enjoy doing yoga.
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