Fearless - Ep 12: "The Visionary CEO" - Steve Shiffman / Calvin Klein

"The Visionary CEO"

"Plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit."

Calvin Klein is an $8+ billion global business that celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. For half a century, the brand has provided some of the advertising’s industry most iconic moments - a 15 year-old Brooke Shields, a nearly naked man in Times Square, Marky-Mark and Kate Moss, Christy Turlington and Justin Bieber. In the process it created the designer jeans industry and turned mens’ underwear into a fashion statement and a multi-billion dollar category.

By every measure, Calvin Klein is an enduring and expanding success story, that continues to drive both cultural change and the bottom line.

Steve Shiffman became the CEO of Calvin Klein almost exactly three years ago. In that time he has led what has been described in many circles as a creative revolution.

Steve talked to me about the role creativity has played in his life, about why he decided to disrupt a company known for disruption, and about what he has learned about leading creativity and his own journey in the process.


Three Takeaways

  • The importance of a long-term vision to guide you through difficult and sometimes personally challenging decisions.
  • The willingness to accept that disruption is necessary if you're going to build long-term viability and sustainability and relevance
  • The absence of personal ego. You're not doing this because you think it's personally aggrandizing. You're doing it because you believe it's the right thing to do. When leaders bring that sensibility to the table, it attracts people and allows them to make even bigger changes than when they are doing it through a lens of, "how does this reflect on me?"

"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT 

Episode 12: Steve Shiffman / Calvin Klein

Hello. You're listening to Fearless, where we explore and the arts and science of leading creativity, that unpredictable, amorphous and invaluable resource that's critical to every modern business. Each week, we talk to leaders of the world's most disruptive companies about how they're jumping into the fire, crossing the chasm and blowing up the status quo, leaders who've mastered the art of turning the impossible into the profitable. Today, the world needs leaders who can unlock creativity like never before, fearless leaders. Why shouldn't that be you?

Every leader is faced with two distinct challenges: Knowing the right thing to do and then doing it. Today's creative industries are moving at what seemed to be light speed, which makes solving the first part of that challenge, deciding the right thing to do, more and more difficult. The simple factors is it's no longer enough to try to keep up. You have to target the future or, as Wayne Gretzky famously said, "You have to skate to where the puck is going to be."

Doing that requires that a leader invest in the overuse theory but under leverage reality of a vision, a vision possessing sufficient gravitational appeal to attract both talent and revenue, those two life forces of every creative business. I'm still struck by how rare it is to find a leader that can declare their clear and compelling vision on demand. No hesitation, no stuttering or stammering, no anxious glance away, no pause while inspiration is sought.

If you don't have a vision for your company, if you're not clear what success looks like beyond adding to the top and bottom lines, it won't take long for the people that work for you to find that out and for the brave and talented among them to decide they'd rather work for someone who can describe the difference they want their organization to make in the world. That's true for a simple reason. Creative people want to make one thing more than anything else. They want to make a difference.

In today's creative industries, if you can't explain the difference you want your company to make, you won't be the leader of anything very significant for very long. Setting the destination to step one. Step two is committing to the journey. Human nature means that getting any group of people to align around common interests is a challenge at the best of times. Achieving that with people who both by instinct and skill are original and disruptive thinkers, is not for the faint hearted or those looking for a simple life.

Creative people, whether the description is part of their title, or more commonly these days, part of their DNA, need to be convinced to join forces and work together. They want to know that they can trust the people around them, especially the person who's leading. From a leadership standpoint, that requires displaying certainty and consistency that, as human beings, we don't always feel.

If you listen to episode 10, you heard Kerry Sulkowicz describe some of the psychoanalytic components or leadership. Amy Cuddy in her highly-regarded TED talk describes her own journey of faking it till you become it. Overcoming our own uncertainty as human beings is part of the challenge when you become the leader.

The best leaders recognize that this uncertainty exists in everyone and they're able and willing to create an environment in which the most talented people can do their best work while still remaining uncompromising about the standards that are required for the company's journey. It's a fine balance. It requires humanity wrapped around a steel center. More on this in a future show.

Calvin Klein is an 8.5 billion dollar global business that celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. For half a century, the brand has provided some of the advertising industry's most iconic moments. A 15-year-old Brooke Shields, a nearly naked man in Times Square, Marky Mark and Kate Moss, Christy Turlington and Justin Bieber, to name a few. In the process, it created the designer jeans industry and it turned men's underwear into a fashion statement and a multi-billion dollar category.

By every measure, Calvin Klein is an enduring and expanding success story that continues to drive both cultural change and the bottom line. Steve Shiffman became the CEO of Calvin Klein almost exactly three years ago. In that time, he has led what has been described in many circles as a creative revolution. Steve recently sat down with me and talked about the role creativity has played in his life, about why he decided to disrupt a company known for disruption, and about what he has learned about leading creativity and his own journey in the process. Steve, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here.

Steve Shiffman:                  Hello, Charles. It's an absolute pleasure. Good to see you again, and thanks for inviting me.

Charles:                               It's great to see you, too. I know we're going to talk a lot about creativity today, but one of the questions I wanted to start with is that creativity is a big part of your life now, but I think it's always been a big part of your life. Where did your love of creativity come from?

Steve Shiffman:                  Actually, it sort of sounds like a Freudian reference. It started in my childhood. My dad is an artist at heart. He is an engineer by trade and an architect by love, but ultimately, he's really an artist. I remember vividly he used to show me pictures and some pieces of work he did when he was at Cooper Union and some sculptures he did, so I was always fascinated, when he was in college, what he did.

When we were very young, we used to oil point. I was probably eight, nine years old, go up into our attic. It was hot as heck. I remember vividly, and he had a set of oil paints and I did and I had my own canvass and we used to paint together. Clearly, he's immensely talented. We all manifest our creativity a little differently. I certainly am not Picasso, to say the least, but in addition to that, he used to take us to the Guggenheim, the Met, MoMA, just to name a few, when I was very young. Heavily influenced by the various museums in New York, but especially modern art.

In conjunction with that, he also designed our own house. First modern house in the area up in Westchester County surrounded by federalist construction, colonial construction and design, so you put this A frame modern house. It really stood out like a sore thumb, and now, obviously, there are many, many houses like that, and he built it in 1968, and he designed it. He didn't actually construct it, but he did design it, and it was embedded with mid century modern furniture and also modern art.

That is really the most prominent influence it's had on my life, and my dad, today, who I saw yesterday, by the way, is going to be 90 years old in January. He does pottery every day. He retired from engineering architecture probably about when he was 70 years old, almost 20 years ago, and he's been doing pottery every day since. It's amazing. He's a remarkable man.

Charles:                                   How inspiring to be around that kind of energy and that kind of creative fervor.

Steve Shiffman:                  Yeah. I'm very, very fortunate.

Charles:                                   How did you get into the fashion business? Did that become a direct link into the fashion business?

Steve Shiffman:                  Absolutely not, actually. Throughout my high school and college tenure, I was always passionate about the field of psychology. I was in internships in various psychological institutes, at hospitals, throughout high school and colleges, like I said. I was destined, in my own mind, to become a psychologist.

After I graduated undergraduate, I went and I worked for the state of Massachusetts working as a social worker, basically, or a case worker. I worked in an outpatient clinic that was really working with patients who had been quote, unquote, "de-institutionalized" in the state from Boston State Hospital, De-institutionalization, for the listeners, was a period of, I think, positive intent by the mental health and the state government to take people out of the state hospitals who had been institutionalized for many, many years.

The problem with it is that most of them were not capable of living on their own. This particular client group was living in a halfway house in the grounds of Boston State Hospital, and every day they would come and work with us. About two and a half years into it, it was a very rewarding but very challenging client group to work with. One of the patients tried to kill one of my coworkers.

Charles:                                   Oh my God.

Steve Shiffman:                  A couple of us ran in and grabbed them and a lot of drama ensued. We called the police, but it became very, very clear to me that either I needed to go for my PhD and really get the learnings, if you will, to work more effectively with the various populations, or do something else. I chose to do something else, actually. I chose to work at Bloomingdale's for Christmas because I needed the money and I got the bug. I started calling the buyers up. It was [crosstalk 09:13]

Charles:                                   You just worked on the floor of Bloomingdale's as a Christmas employee?

Steve Shiffman:                  Yep. There was a little area called ... I remember it vividly. Saturday's Generation. Don't know if it still exists today. It was really a young men's area. I remember I got the bug, started moving product around, calling and I was pretty good at selling, actually, and I got the bug and I decided to apply to both Bloomingdale's and Macy's training program. Really mentored and guided by a friend of my parents' who knew them before I was born, who was a professor at FIT, a wonderful woman named [inaudible 00:09:50]. She guided me to apply to both, and I chose to go to the Macy's program, and that's how I got into the industry.

Charles:                                   How did you go from there to Calvin? What was that path?

Steve Shiffman:                  Well, I first started, I spent about 10 years in Macy's, in the Macy's organization. Great training, by the way. Based on what I know today, one of the best training programs in our industry. Subsequent to that, I worked at a sporting goods company, which was wonderful. About two years and passionate about fitness, so I was running the fitness area, so both apparel and the hard goods, treadmills and all this, and flying round to the various Reebock's campus, Nike's campus, out to Utah. One of our suppliers made goods. Built a very nice business, a fairly significant business.

Then a friend of mine had gone to the PVH corporation, and he called me up and he said, "I really think you'd like working in this company." I applied and I ended up working and moved to the PVH corporation almost 25 years ago. After spending about 15 years there in multiple roles working up to president roles in a few different divisions, I moved to the Calvin division about 10 years ago, which one of the great professional blessings of my life, and it's been just a passion since I got to Calvin's. It's been quite a wonderful run for me both professionally, personally. I love the aesthetic of the brand below what it's meant, so it's been a great run for the last 10 years.

Charles:                                   When you got there, Calvin himself had gone by then.

Steve Shiffman:                  Yes, PVH Corporation bought the Calvin Klein company back in 2003. Calvin left shortly thereafter, and I got there probably about 2006, I would guess, 2006, 2007, so I did not have the opportunity to work with Calvin.

Charles:                                   What did you find when you got into Calvin?

Steve Shiffman:                  I found the entire company was embedded with people who were passionate about the brand, incredibly loyal to the legacy that Calvin had built, and he built an incredible brand. A lot of talented people, and many of those people I was really blessed to work with over many, many years. The only challenge that I saw was if Calvin had been there, especially as the years went by, Calvin was an innovator, and he would've reinvented the brand. I did feel that some areas we were a little stuck and we needed to move it forward.

Charles:                                   I know that I've heard you in the past talk about the fact you felt a really strong emotional connection to Calvin, as a brand and a business.

Steve Shiffman:                  I great up in the '70s, '80s, '90s, obviously. Calvin has always stood for innovation. He's always stood for beautiful aesthetic. Certainly best known, probably four incredible marketing, breakthrough marketing and Brooke Shields, when you launch designer jeans, Mark Wahlberg came us when he launched designer underwear. I think most prominently, what stood out to me, was the fact that he was one of the first if not the first designer in the fashion industry to speak openly about AIDS and advocate for, really, supporting all victims with AIDS and for our group, but even in the Mark Wahlberg, Kate Moss commercial, if you remember it, he's talked about AIDS.

Mark Wahlberg talks about AIDS, and it was very, very moving to me because unfortunately, when I grew up, many of my friends contracted AIDS and I lost many friends as a result of that. It did have more of a commercial connection aside from the incredible aesthetic that Calvin brought to the fashion industry, and frankly, to the home sector, as well.

Charles:                                   That kind of courage and confidence to be willing to stand out publicly for an issue that was controversial back then in the extreme, right? That really says something about the brand and the qualities that the brand stood for.

Steve Shiffman:                  Yeah. You have to give Calvin Klein unbelievable credit for what he's built, not only as a brand, but for his social stances, and I agree. I do think it's an amazing brand that was really built by an amazing individual. The social efforts he's brought forward, it really resonated with me and, I think, many consumers and many people, even if they choose not to buy the Calvin Klein product.

Charles:                                   Yeah. I think that's true. You've been CEO for what? Three years now?

Steve Shiffman:                  I've been CEO three years, three days go. This is my third day-

Charles:                                   Oh, is that right? Well, happy anniversary.

Steve Shiffman:                  Thank you. Thank you so much.

Charles:                                   When you took over that job and you were starting to think about the changes that you wanted to make for the company or the future of the company [inaudible 00:14:51], what were you thinking as you took on that job?

Steve Shiffman:                  When you take over the CEO role of the Calvin Klein organization, probably of any world class organization, the first thing you think about is, "How do I structure this company for the future?" The second thing that you really think about is the brand, the Calvin Klein brand is going to be 50 years old next year, in 2018. You focus on, "How do you ensure that the legacy, if you will, or the brand for decades to come?" Because I do think it's a special brand for consumer as well as anybody who was moved by the Calvin Klein brand over the past almost five decades, at this point.

It's fairly daunting. I felt a lot of weight on my shoulder in this sense, without being too dramatic, about how could I enure that this brand was relevant for the next decade and hopefully the next five decades? That was the first thing I thought about. Obviously, then, you look at the talent pool, you look at the organization, you look at where we were today, and you have to acknowledge and recognize what we're really good at, and some of the areas that needed further improvement. That's really the first thing I did over the first 90 days.

Charles:                                   On a personal basis, I'm always struck when I'm talking to and working with CEOs of organizations. Obviously, there's a lot about taking on these positions that is hugely personal. On a personal basis, what kind of company did you want to create? What was important to you?

Steve Shiffman:                  There's a great quote that a friend of mind shared with me. It's the true meaning of life. This planting tree is under whose shade you do not expect to see. That resonated with me and that just talks to the role of the CEO. That's the type of CEO I wanted to be, to build this great legacy for the next generation, but also when that embraced diversity of all the various forms of diversity, one that was very inclusive.

One of the things that I believe Calvin has certainly did prior, at least based on what other people have shared with me, not having worked with him directly, is he built a very, very diverse, inclusive organization, one that was not afraid to innovate, one that was not afraid to stand for what he believed in, and we need to continue to do that. That's really the great legacy of Calvin in the past, and I do believe it'll be one of the great components that'll ensure a relevancy as well as sustainability, not only to our consumers, to our employees, obviously to our shareholders. We're a public company and have an obligation, obviously, to the shareholders as well.

Charles:                                   You talked about when you took over the job of looking to the future and thinking about, "How do I make sure that this company is relevant for another 10, 15, 20 or even 50 years?" What's your ambition for the company?

Steve Shiffman:                  The first thing, when I looked at the organization and I looked at how Calvin has built this incredible brand, if I was to simplify it, I needed to double down in creativity. That's the first thing I needed to do. We were a company embedded with talented people, many who had been there, 10, 15, some 20 years. There were about seven creative leaders or creative directors within the organization.

I think anybody who understands organization structure recognizes the challenge of coalescing seven creative voices into one unified vision. It was pretty clear to me that that was a daunting task to overcome.

Charles:                                   You had seven different people responsible for the creative output of the company?

Steve Shiffman:                  Yeah, that's correct. Marketing, various creative designers, so when you added them all up, there were seven different people. To ensure and to get the Calvin Klein brand to the level of prominence and regain the level of prominence, fashion relevance, cultural relevance just to name a few, as well as commercial relevance, which we were commercially relevant, I believe very strongly by really investing in creativity, as I said, doubling down in creativity and finding that one, great creative leader to take us to the future was really the task at hand. I started looking into that fairly shortly after I took over.

Charles:                                   Because your vision for the future of the company was what? Creativity was important in terms of creating what kind of business?

Steve Shiffman:                  I wanted to build a brand, if you will, that had culturally relevant and connected with all ages, not just you, but all ages as it has in the past, when that was commercially relevant, when it was fashion relevant, and I would say, again, as I alluded to earlier, when you take over the helm of a company as great as Calvin Klein, you've got to recognize what it was great at, what areas needed improvement. We were very, very commercially relevant.

We had a great business, profitable business, but we didn't have the level of fashion prominence that I believe we needed to ensure not only our current viability, but also future viability. The task at hand was really bringing in a creative leader who could really coalesce all these commercial forces, relevancy, culture, as well as fashion relevance to ensure our sustainable future, if you will.

Charles:                                   Finding somebody who satisfies all of those criteria is not a small ask, I'm certain. That must've been a daunting proposition. What kind of characteristics are you looking for when you're trying to find somebody capable of taking the creative vision or the creative sensibility of Calvin Klein forward?

Steve Shiffman:                  Yeah. To say it was a daunting task is an understatement. There were very, very few people on my list, if you will, that I thought could lead an organization of this scope, not only on the commercial scope, but of all of the tasks and the vision that I had for the brand. Frankly, it really came down to one person, and that one person name's is Raf Simmons, and obviously, it didn't happen immediately.

I've been here three years and Raf joined us just almost exactly a year ago, but Raf is, in my opinion, a once-in-a-lifetime talent. He's an incredible creative visionary. Frankly, we're blessed to have him. Throughout the discussions he and I had, it really was about everything you just talked about. It was about reconnecting with youth culture, one creative vision, fashion relevance, rebuilding what we used to call Calvin Klein Collection. Now we call it Calvin Klein 205 West 39 Street New York City, which is the most aspirational aspect of a brand.

The Calvin Klein organization in particular is unique in the fashion industry because we have a very, very broad, what I call inclusive aspect to the business with jeans and underwear where most people could afford it as well as a very aspirational aspect to the product assortment, which we now call Calvin Klein 205 West 39 Street New York City. To find somebody who could go high-low, if you will, was really a daunting task, and finding Raf has really ... I think the Calvin Klein organization, I think for Raf it gives him a voice to speak to millions of people, and I think it's a great marriage. These two brands together, Calvin Klein and Raf Simmons, is a great marriage today and will be for the future.

Charles:                                   I'm struck. In preparing for this conversation, I came across a quote that was in the New York Times, I think, in that period between you making the changes and before it was announced that Raf was coming in and the quote was, I'm just going to read this, "American fashion may be about to experience its biggest redefinition in decades. Indeed, it's not exaggerating to say that if Calvin Klein picks the right person for the job and supports that person, it could radically redefine New York fashion."

That's a lot of attention, but it's also a lot of pressure. When you're going through this kind of ... This is disruption in its purest form. When you're going through that, what are the kind of challenges that you're facing when you're bringing somebody like that into a company as visible as Calvin?

Steve Shiffman:                  Let me just say, Calvin Klein, myself, and I'll give the chairman of PVH Corporation a lot of credit, Manny Chirico. We did pick the right person, and obviously I stewarded it, but we definitely picked the right person in Raf Simmons, and as I said, it's a great marriage. It is a daunting task. When you're working, PVH Corporation, where we're one of three major divisions within the corporation, it's a public company.

I have an obligation, obviously, to the company, to our employees, but ultimately to our shareholders and balancing a creative force as prominent as Raf in a very strong operationally, financially strong, but operationally strong company is a real balancing act. I've got to balance long-term vision and short-term pragmatism. Frankly, it's a dally task, if you will, but it's my job and it's the job of my senior leadership as well.

Charles:                                   You're an eight and a half billion dollar business and you operate in how many countries?

Steve Shiffman:                  We operate in 40 plus countries. We're basically and virtually every continent in the world, a very strong, very prominent business in North America, Europe, and Asia. A nice business is being built in Australia at this point. Africa, we really just have a small prominence, a small business in mostly South Africa today, and obviously in South America we're building a nice business.

Yes, we've got about almost 10,000 employees across the globe. We are eight and a half billion in global retail sales today. It's a big business, and it's a profitable business, but the numbers, as prominent as they are, I believe that just at the beginning of where we can go.

Charles:                                   This kind of change in a company that complex and that large, somebody said to me once, is a bit like trying to change an engine on a 747 in mid flight at 38,000 feet. There may be other ways to describe it, and you've talked about balancing short-term pragmatism with long-term vision. What are the changes that you're seeing in the first year? How does a change like this manifest itself internally?

Steve Shiffman:                  Well, the first obvious change when you bring one creative leaders in is you do have organizational changes. Raf, in particular, brought in ... It's not just Raf I brought in. We brought in Peter and many other talented people, many who have worked with Raf before, so on the creative side, it was a fairly significant shift within the organization.

This is a public podcast, so I do want to recognize and thank those people that had been and helped create this great organization, get it to eight and a half billion dollars over the years. They deserve a lot of credit for those who are not with us anymore, and I want to publicly thank them. I also want to acknowledge the people that are still with us who have been here for 10 to 20 years and who have embraced the changes at hand. It's not an easy task to change, especially with a visionary like Raf.

Charles:                                   How much of your job these days is consistently providing a reassurance and a reference point about heading this way for these reasons? When you're taking that many people over that many countries through this kind of change?

Steve Shiffman:                  For my opinion, for any CEO, providing the vision is probably the most important thing you can do and make sure you communicate that as effectively as you can. The first thing I did, actually, 90 days into my tenure, I spoke to the entire organization about my vision for the company five, six years down the road or three years closer to that now. One of them was very clearly one creative vision.

We're well on our way, and I really do believe bringing Raff in, in particular, is a culmination of what I said 90 days into my tenure as a CEO, but obviously in addition to that, an organization of culture change percolates throughout the organization. We're a big, global company. We have major offices throughout the world with some very, very senior talented people. Getting everybody on board has been ... It's a daunting task. I'm not going to tell you everything is perfect today, but I will tell you that we are embedded with an organization of talented people and we're well on our way to sharing a real, great unified vision across the globe for the Calvin Klein brand.

Charles:                                   I think that concept of having a vision and articulating a vision is something that people talk about all the time but is rarely practiced with that kind of clarity that you've just described. What I see when I help people do that, if I'm lucky enough to sit in the audience while that vision is being presented, you can see, you can almost physically see the change across the organization as people become clearer and more confident and more excited about what the leader has just articulated. You must've felt that when you did that yourself. Did you get that sense as well, that the organization was kind of shifting in real time in front of you?

Steve Shiffman:                  Yes, you do, Charles, but with it, and I'm a pragmatist and I'm a pretty direct communicator, so I'll be equally direct on this podcast. It's not the easiest thing in the world to change an organization of this size. Where it really all came together was at the fashion show in February. It was remarkable. We did a show, two different shows, one mostly for the press and obviously our biggest business partners. The second show we did for some of our business partners, but a lot of our employees. They did that intentionally.

The buzz that percolated in both shows was remarkable, and I have to tell you, it was an emotional moment for me and, I think, for the organization because when you look at what Raf and his team, Peter, Matthew, some of our heads of design, brought to the show and brought to American fashion, going back to that quote, it was remarkable. The quality of the product and the execution and the beauty of what was put down at the show and the way it was presented, it was beautiful. It was truly beautiful, and it made me proud as a CEO of the Calvin Klein brand.

Charles:                                   That's fantastic. I think it's one of those things that a lot of leaders fail to do for themselves, which is just to take a moment to acknowledge a moment like that and the fact that it reflect progress, because obviously when you've got a job like yours, you're always focused on, as you said, you've got to deliver value. You've got to make sure the company is moving forward. You've got to make sure that people are aligned and moving towards the vision.

 I do think it's important on a human level to stop for a moment and just say, "I just did this thing. I was part of helping to make this thing happen." That was something that was important to you on that particular day.

Steve Shiffman:                  Yes. I remember so vividly, there were a number of people who came up to me, and they said, "Can I just give you a hug?" These people that they work in the company. Some I know and, frankly, some I don't, and we have over 1,000 people in New York City. I wish I knew everybody's name, but unfortunately, I know many, but not everybody. It was just a remarkable, remarkable moment for both shows, frankly. When you see the great editors and business partners of the industry stand up and applaud at the end of the first show was equally rewarding, obviously, trying to build the business is, at the same time, of transforming the incredible brand to realize my vision for the brand.

Charles:                                   Yeah, that's wonderful. As you know, the podcast is called Fearless. I'm always interested in understanding the personal journey. What have been the biggest challenges for you personally in terms of making this kind of change in a company this complex?

Steve Shiffman:                  Probably the hardest thing to do is to say goodbye to talented people who have been so loyal to the brand over so many years. When you have to do that, it's difficult. I'm an emotional person. I have a lot of friends. Many of people I had to say goodbye to were incredibly talented people.

They gave their heart and soul to the brand. That is absolutely the hardest thing to do, but you have to keep your eye on why you're doing it, and you're doing it for the shareholders. You're doing it for the other employees for the consumers throughout the industry and really to help realize your vision, and that's what keeps you going. Again, I just want to reiterate, those people that had helped build this brand were talented, and again, I want to publicly thank them for their tenure at Calvin.

Charles:                                   Also, I guess, on a personal basis, the nature of creativity is that it requires uncertainty. You're running a business that clearly has a bottom line requirement. You said it's a publicly traded company. There are more than expectations. There are requirements. How do you go about balancing the uncertainty of creativity with the requirements of a financial bottom line?

Steve Shiffman:                  That's a great question. Creativity, you're right, does necessitate uncertainty. When you work for a public company, it requires predictability. It's a balancing act. I'm blessed to be surrounded by a senior team as well as a parent company in PVH Corporation that embraces the journey we're on, and I have to balance the decisions that are made with those two factors in mind. To say it's daunting sometimes, it would be honest. I'd be dishonest if I didn't acknowledge it, but it's not an impossible mission, I think, as we're proving today.

Charles:                                   What's next for Calvin, Calvin Klein as a brand? As you've said, it's iconic, it's being disruptive, it has really significant markers that it's laid down over the last 49 years. Is Calvin always going to be a fashion brand? Could it become something beyond that?

Steve Shiffman:                  Again, Calvin is going to be 50. The Calvin Klein brand will be 50 years old next year. Though I'm not going to share all of the initiatives we have publicly under way, I think there's some unbelievably exciting initiatives from a fashion point of view, from a cultural point of view, that are well under way, but ultimately, if you simplify it, marrying Calvin Klein brand and Raf Simmons in this incredible organization embedded with talented, passionate people will ensure our fashion relevance, ensure our commercial relevance for decades to come.

As I said to a number of other people, just wait because the future it going to be so, so sweet, and frankly and currently it's sweet, but the future is so bright in front of us when you combine all these incredible, talented individuals, the brand as well as this incredible corporation. Watch out for 2018 to celebrate our 50th anniversary with us.

Charles:                                   Last question. Is there anything ... Maybe I should phrase that again. Last question. Is there anything that you're afraid of?

Steve Shiffman:                  I'm afraid of complacency. That would be the only thing I'm afraid of. The one thing that we all need to do is be willing to take smart risk and, really, to go after big ideas, because look at the world around us. Look what's happening to the fashion industry, especially the retail industry. The word "disruption" is obviously used maybe too much today, but taking calculated, smart risks is the best thing you can do today. Being safe, I believe, will lead to obsolescence.

Charles:                                   That's great. I like to do a thing at the end of each conversation where in real time I extract what I think are the three major themes, so let me take a crack and you can tell me whether these resonate with you or not. The themes that I've heard today that really stand out to me are, one, the importance of having a long-term vision to be able to guide you through very difficult and sometimes personally challenging decisions as well as decisions that are challenging on a business basis.

Two, I think, is the willingness to accept that disruption is necessary if you're going to build long-term viability and sustainability and relevance, I think, to use your word. The third thing that strikes me just from listening to you and talking to you is that I get a sense there's very little personal ego involved with this. You're not doing this because you think it's personally aggrandizing. You're doing it because you believe it's the right thing to do.

I think when leaders bring that sensibility to the table, it attracts people to them and it allows them to make even bigger changes than when they are doing it through a lens of, "How does this reflect on me?" Does that resonate? Is that fair?

Steve Shiffman:                  I think that's a great recap of, really, the themes that I shared with you today. I'll just touch on the last reference. Again, I can speak for myself. I can't speak for my peer CEOs in other companies. You have to do what you believe is right for the employees, your shareholders and for the consumers as well as really to share your vision for the brand, but if it's done for selfish reasons, I don't believe you could be a CEO of a company.

My obligation, as I said, is to ensure the viability of the Calvin Klein brand the next decades to come. Nobody's going to remember Steve Shiffman. They're going to remember Calvin Klein. They might remember the Raf Simmons era, but they're going to remember the Calvin Klein brand as being this incredible brand, and there will be other CEOs that follow me who hopefully will continue to build on top of what we've already started.

Charles:                                   I'm not sure I agree with you that people won't remember Steve Shiffman, but history will be the judge of that. I thank you so much for joining me today. This has been fascinating, and thanks for being here, Steve.

Steve Shiffman:                  Charles, thank you so much. It's my pleasure.

Charles:                                   You've been listening to Fearless, the art of creative leadership. If you like what you've heard, please rate us on iTunes. It helps a lot. If you want more information on this episode of any of the others, go to fearlesscreativeleadership.com and thanks for listening.