Caleres’ Diane Sullivan Reflects on Her Legacy in Footwear Ahead of Two Ten Lifetime Honor

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For more than a decade, Diane Sullivan has been one of the most powerful women in the footwear industry — and she has used her position of influence in the best of ways.

“I hope everybody knows that I absolutely love this industry and have done everything I could — my very best — to make a good contribution,” said the executive chair of Caleres, who will receive the Bob Campbell Lifetime Achievement Award at the Two Ten Footwear Foundation annual gala on June 4.

Shawn Osborne, president and chief executive officer of Two Ten, said, “Diane has been a powerful voice in our industry. Her leadership, ability to connect with people, and successful career have made her a role model to so many, especially women rising into executive roles.”

Indeed, Sullivan’s contributions have been numerous. At Two Ten specifically, she has been a longtime board member and co-founded the nonprofit’s thriving Women in the Footwear Industry (WIFI) group, which has grown from a handful of participants in 2009 to now thousands across the country.

“I’m so proud to have played a role in developing WIFI,” said Sullivan. “It’s a wonderful example of when there’s a true need and something organically grows on its own. Now we’ve got a great new group of women leading that, thinking about what the next generation of women need and how it can continue to evolve.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 30: (L-R) Fergie, Diane Sullivan, Nelly attend the 2022 Footwear News Achievement Awards at Cipriani South Street on November 30, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Footwear News via Getty Images)
A power trio: Fergie, Diane Sullivan and Nelly at the 2022 FNAAs.

Sullivan’s impact can also clearly be seen at Caleres, where she served as CEO for 12 years before transitioning to executive chair in 2023. Experts credit her with turning around the company and transforming it into a strong brand builder, supported by her acquisitions of successful labels like Sam Edelman, Allen Edmonds and Vionic.

Additionally, Sullivan took major steps to promote equity and inclusion at Caleres years before most major companies addressed the issue. (In 2017, the firm announced a majority-female board of directors.) And Sullivan has been a steadfast champion of philanthropic causes — both personally and through Caleres’ charitable trust — lending support to the United Way of Greater St. Louis, Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University, Ticket to Dream Foundation, Soles4Souls and other organizations.

Sullivan expressed pride in all that she accomplished at Caleres but was humble as she reflected on the work. “It isn’t any one thing — it really is a cumulative effort of a lot of small things that you do,” she said. “Once in a while, a couple of great things add up to some kind of meaningful change.”

She credited the Caleres board for taking a long-term view of success, which gave her the freedom to enact change in multiple areas. And she noted that her own evolution as a leader was a work in progress as well.

“You get into these leadership positions and you grow into them over time,” she said. “You become even more of a whole person about how you address not only your company but the communities, your industry. Once you’re comfortable from a business and financial perspective, you can accelerate your own growth and learn how to help people in other ways.

“Also, our industry has been incredibly philanthropic, so there were good role models for me,” she added, noting that Campbell himself was one of those role models.

Two Ten’s Bob Campbell award was established in 2009 to recognize its first recipient, the late founder of BBC International. The award is given every five years to an individual who similarly exemplifies extraordinary leadership and compassion.

“Dad’s spirit lives on in the honor bestowed upon Diane, a leader whose remarkable contributions to the footwear industry and dedication to gender parity, education and health care truly exemplify the essence of this award,” said Seth Campbell, corporate president at BBC International, who will present the award to Sullivan at the gala.

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