Last week, Foot Locker announced that Mary Dillon would take over as CEO, replacing Dick Johnson, who previously served as CEO, president and chair of the footwear retailer. The company also announced that its lead independent director Dona Young would replace Johnson as the company’s non-executive chair, effective Jan. 31, 2023.
With this shift, Foot Locker will occupy a rare position among public companies of its stature, with two women at the helm of its board and C-Suite.
In cases where the executive chair and CEO roles are split, it is unusual that both positions are occupied by women, given the small percentage of women occupying these roles overall. For example, Ed Stack and George P. Orban both serve as chairmen of Dick’s Sporting Goods and Ross Stores, respectively, alongside female CEOs. Notably, Tapestry has two women in both of these roles, with Anne Gates leading as independent chair alongside CEO Joanne Crevoiserat.
“This is not a common situation,” explained Janice Reals Ellig, founder of the Women’s Forum of New York’s Corporate Board Initiative and its Breakfast of Corporate Champions. “The numbers just don’t allow it.”
As of October, 8.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women, according to the 2021 Women CEOs in America Report. (Former Gap Inc. CEO Sonia Syngal’s recent departure left only 43 female CEOs on the Fortune 500.) When it comes to boards, women held 27% of all board seats in 2021, up from 24% in 2020, according to a report from Women Business Collaborative.
Johnson, who is retiring, told FN in an interview that he is proud that the retailer will now have women in both roles. As of the announcement, four out of Foot Locker’s 10 board members are female.
“They’re great people and they’re great leaders, and that’s ultimately what matters,” Johnson said. “They both believe in a diverse, inclusive culture, and that’s something that we’ve built at Foot Locker that I’m incredibly proud of. … It’s been one of the hallmarks of my time as CEO, that we’ve tried to find good diverse leaders to lead the company.”
While he noted the “male-led” history of the footwear industry, Johnson noted female leaders such as Nike’s president of consumer and marketplace Heidi O’Neill, as well as other high-ranking female leaders at the Swoosh.
As CEO, Dillon will join the growing group of female leaders sitting in the top executive spot at a footwear or retail company, including Genesco Inc.’s Mimi Vaughn, Dick’s Sporting Goods’ Lauren Hobart and Caleres’ Diane Sullivan (who will step down as CEO in 2023 and remain executive chairman), among others.
During his time at Foot Locker, Johnson has been vocal in his commitment to creating greater equity and inclusion in the footwear industry. In an open letter in June 2020, he acknowledged the debt that 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 had led the way for progress compared to other industries, ranking among the highest-performing industries for board gender diversity across the S&P 500, according to a July 2021 study from nonprofit BoardReady.
At the Women’s Forum of New York’s Breakfast of Corporate Champions in New York in November, 44 companies across all industries were recognized for achieving or exceeding board gender parity. In total, about 240 companies were saluted for having 35% or more female representation at the time, including Tapestry, Caleres, Designer Brands, Gap, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom, TJX Companies, Foot Locker, Genesco, PVH, Wolverine World Wide and more. Since December, that number rose to 248 companies at 35% or higher, according to BoardEx.
In the wake of the announcement of Dillon’s appointment, Foot Locker shares surged and analysts praised the move. Market watchers highlighted Dillon’s professional achievements, most recently as the CEO and executive chair of Ulta Beauty, where she oversaw a revenue increase of about 288%.
Baird Analyst Jonathan Komp said in a note to investors that Dillon “brings significant credibility” to the role and her appointment should “support greater optimism” in the intermediate and long-term outlook for the stock. Komp specifically noted Dillon’s “highly successful role” as Ulta’s CEO during a high-growth period 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.