People - June 2006
Greensboro-based VF Corp. looks different from when Eric Wiseman joined the apparel giant in 1995. Long known for its jeans and intimate apparel, it now also outfits skateboarders with studded belts, preppies with polo shirts and students with backpacks.
Analysts have credited Wiseman, 50, as the force behind acquisitions that have transformed VF. Though jeanswear and lingerie still account for more than half its revenue, VF since 2000 has purchased such higher-end lines as Nautica and The North Face, termed “lifestyle brands” because people identify with them. “We didn’t have a brand that could reach those consumers,” says Wiseman, who was named president and chief operating officer in March.
After graduating from Wake Forest University in 1977 with a bachelor’s in business, the Malvern, Pa., native decided to find a job in North Carolina. “When you do that, you certainly look in the apparel and textile industry,” he says. He landed at Greensboro-based hosiery maker Kayser-Roth. Within a year, he moved to Winston-Salem-based Hanes, staying after Chicago-based Consolidated Foods — which would change its name to Sara Lee in 1985 — bought it in 1979. Along the way, he earned an MBA from Wake Forest.
His first job at VF was executive vice president of its JanSport brand. As vice president and chairman of VF’s sportswear group, he led the company’s purchase of Nautica in 2003. The following year, VF bought Vans, which makes apparel for skateboarders. Last year, it acquired Reef Holdings, which makes surfer apparel, and Holoubek, which manufactures Harley-Davidson’s line of clothing. More acquisitions are likely. Wiseman, who was executive vice president of global brands before his promotion, also is adding 400 stores to the 525 that VF owns. Those stores generated about 12% of revenue in 2005 and help sell discontinued and out-of-season goods.
VF is the nation’s second-largest apparel company, behind only Nike. Employing more than 52,000 worldwide, it had $6.5 billion revenue last year. As the company’s second-in-command, Wiseman is a logical candidate to succeed CEO Mackey McDonald, who is 59. But he deflects questions about the top job. “What happens down the road will happen down the road.”