Last week, Foot Locker announced that Mary Dillon would take over as CEO, replacing Dick Johnson, who previously served as the shoe retailer’s CEO, chairman and president. The company also announced that its lead independent director young lady would replace Johnson as non-executive chairman of the company, effective January 31, 2023.
With this change, Foot Locker will occupy a rare position among public companies of its stature, with two women heading its board and C-Suite.
In cases where the CEO and CEO roles are split, it is unusual for both positions to be held by women, given the small percentage of women holding these roles overall. For example, Ed Stack and George P. Orban serve as presidents of Dick’s Sporting Goods and Ross Stores, respectively, along with female CEOs. Notably, Tapestry has two women in both roles, with Anne Gates at the helm as independent chairwoman alongside CEO Joanne Crevoiserat.
“This is not a common situation,” explained Janice Reals. Choose, founder of the New York Corporate Board Initiative Women’s Forum and its Corporate Champions Breakfast. “The numbers just don’t allow it.”
As of October, 8.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women, according to 2021 Women CEOs in America Report. (The recent departure of former Gap Inc. CEO Sonia Syngal left only 43 female executive directors in the Fortune 500.) When it comes to boards, women held 27% of all board positions in 2021, up from 24% in 2020, according to a report of Collaborative Women Entrepreneurs.
Johnson, who is retiring, told FN in an interview that he is proud the retailer now has women in both roles. As of the announcement, four of Foot Locker’s 10 board members are women.
“They’re great people and they’re great leaders, and that’s what ultimately matters,” Johnson said. “They both believe in a diverse and inclusive culture, and that’s something we’ve built at Foot Locker that I’m incredibly proud of. … It has been one of the hallmarks of my time as CEO, that we have tried to find good diverse leaders to run the company.”
While noting the “male-driven” history of the shoe industry, Johnson pointed to female leaders such as Nike’s president of consumer and market Heidi O’Neill, as well as other high-ranking female leaders at Swoosh.
As CEO, Dillon will join a growing group of leading women who hold the top executive position in a retail or footwear company, including Mimi Vaughn of Genesco Inc., Lauren Hobart of Dick’s Sporting Goods and Diane Sullivan of Caleres (who will leave the position as CEO in 2023 and remain as executive chairman), among others.
During his time at Foot Locker, Johnson has expressed his commitment to creating greater equity and inclusion in the footwear industry. In an open letter from June 2020, he acknowledged the debt his company owes to the black community. He oversaw a $54 million investment in educational and economic development programs for the Black Community.
When it comes to gender diversity on corporate boards, retail has led the way for progress compared to other industries, ranking among the top-performing industries for gender diversity on boards in the S&P 500, according to a July 2021 study by the nonprofit BoardReady.
At the New York Corporate Champions Breakfast Women’s Forum in New York in November, 44 companies from all industries were recognized for achieving or exceeding gender parity on the board of directors. In all, some 240 companies were recognized as having 35% or more female representation at the time, including Tapestry, Designer Brands, Gap, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom, TJX Companies, Foot Locker, Genesco, PVH, Wolverine World Wide and plus. Since December, that number has risen to 248 companies at 35% or higher, according to BoardEx.
Following the announcement of Dillon’s appointment, Foot Locker shares rose, with analysts praising the move. Market observers have highlighted Dillon’s professional accomplishments, most recently as CEO and CEO of Ulta Beauty, where she oversaw revenue growth of around 288%.
Baird analyst Jonathan Komp said in a note to investors that Dillon “brings significant credibility” to the job and his appointment should “support further optimism” in the medium- and long-term outlook for stocks. Komp specifically highlighted Dillon’s “highly successful role” as CEO of Ulta during a period of high growth between 2013 and 2021.
“We believe Dillon can have an immediate effect on Foot Locker’s overall pace of organizational change in the areas of digital engagement, pursuit of new revenue initiatives and capital allocation practices,” Komp said.