Sharing the same insights with Fisher students as he did with Wall Street investors just a week prior, Roger Rawlins returned to his alma mater to provide students with a look at the past, present and a vision for the future of his company, DSW Inc.

Named CEO in November, Rawlins (BSBA ’88; EMBA ’02) has worked to implement key strategies and priorities to turn the Columbus-based shoe retailer around. He emphasized the importance of generating buy-in among employees and leaders for change initiatives.

“As you go out into the workforce, I can’t encourage you enough to be a part of the group that embraces change and big ideas, be a part of it,” he said. “Demonstrating a level of enthusiasm and acceptance of change will help you stand out in what can be a crowded world to your leadership team.”

Dean Anil Makhija introduces Roger Rawlins

Dean Anil Makhija introduces Roger Rawlins, CEO of DSW Inc. and a Fisher College of Business alumnus.

Rawlins detailed key milestones in DSW’s growth since its founding in 1991, among them the launch of the “Reward Your Style” membership program and its website and a focus on omni-channel marketing and consumer outreach. He also outlined his three areas of focus to help DSW better compete in the crowded shoe market: focus, tempo and disruption.

“We’ve lost focus on the product and how we market the product,” Rawlins said. “Tools and technologies will never be the driver of our business. It’s about the shoes and, in particular, women’s shoes. We have to embrace change and leverage the enthusiasm for change to try new things.

“Finally, we’re building on our legacy of disruption. We were one of, if not the first, footwear retailer to offer an open-sell environment, create a rewards program and provide an assortment of footwear unmatched in the marketplace. We are getting back to creating DSW’s disruptive capabilities.”

For undergraduate student Hannah Cedargren, the opportunity to hear from a leader of a recognized brand, learn about his vision for the company and how he plans to execute it was invaluable.

“Roger provided retail industry insights that you can’t learn from a book,” she said. “When I think of shoes I would never think of Amazon, so to learn they are the market leader was surprising to me. I found it especially interesting that DSW’s plan to turn the company around was to not only sell shoes, but shoes with an experience. I have a feeling that selling experiences is the direction that the brick-and-mortar retailers are headed to avoid losing business to companies like Amazon.”

That Rawlins was a two-time Fisher grad willing to return to campus and engage with current students made the experience even more impactful to MBA student Catherine Banton

"Opportunities like this one really bring my Fisher education to life," she said. "This isn't a vacuum where you develop a skill set without learning from the outside world. Being in a city like Columbus, where you have these incredible and diverse companies, is extremely valuable. The fact that the CEO of DSW is an alum and willing to share with us what, from his MBA experience, helped him be successful is motivating and inspiring."