The Red Wing Shoe Company announced early this week that Allison Gettings will be its first female president starting in July.
“I am humbled by the opportunity,” Gettings said.
While the job is new, the company has been part of her life since she was born. Gettings is the fourth generation of the Sweasy family to lead the Red Wing Shoe Company.
Her great-grandfather joined the company in the first years of the 20th century. Subsequently her grandfather and father led the company.
Wandering the halls
As a child, Gettings spent many summer afternoons wandering the halls of the company’s corporate offices.
Her father, retired CEO Bill Sweasy, would tell young Gettings stories of the company's antics, showing the spirit of a bold, pioneering and fun workplace.
“In other moments, especially as I got older, my mother and father spoke passionately about our values around community, excellence, respect and integrity, and how those came to life specifically in work and at home,” she said.
Gettings attended St. Olaf College for undergraduate studies in psychology and went on to receive a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management.
That education has served her well.
“I use my psychology training every day as I strive to better understand myself so I can be a better leader, and of course, understand our customers,” Gettings said. “My business degree has been invaluable as well.”
Her own brand
At the age of 23, she started working at the shoe company but left to start her own brand.
“I left Red Wing because I wanted to create a brand and product line that I hadn’t yet found,” Gettings said. “I set out to create something stylish, comfortable and well-made at a medium price point.”
She found challenges.
“There are a million challenges to starting your own business, and every entrepreneur has their blood, sweat and tears baked into each product,” Gettings said. “Mine included the obvious, like finding a factory and convincing them to work with me, to surprises with wrong tariffs, which wiped away all hopes of profitability.”
The challenges became an educational experience.
“With every challenge however, I had to learn that there was always a way forward, and that I could find it with time, help and determination,” Gettings said. “That has been a profound gift that I continue to carry with me today.”
With the experiences she learned as an entrepreneur, Gettings returned to Red Wing.
“I have always known that Red Wing Shoe Company was a special place, and the community, culture and pride that we have here made it feel like home,” she said. “Like so many others before, it has always felt right to come back home.”
She came back with a question: Why had Red Wing Shoe Company not made a women’s line of their iconic boots?
“I learned that we just never had the bandwidth or focus,” she said. “I came back to Red Wing Shoe Company and spearheaded our efforts to release Red Wing's Women’s Heritage product line in 2016.”
The new line was successful.
“Creating and launching our women’s Heritage line was a career highlight,” she said.
Gettings also “reimagined” the company’s Vasque brand.
Along the way there were mistakes, mistakes she embraces as building her into the executive she is today.
“I have made so many mistakes in my career, but they have all provided me with new perspectives that I couldn't have achieved otherwise,” she said. “They may not always reflect the best of my decisions, but I'll keep them.”
Gettings will rely on her years of experience as she transitions from her current role into the soon-to-be first female president. In July, she will start overseeing operations at the two domestic manufacturing plants in Red Wing and Potosi, Missouri. Other duties include marketing, business technology and corporate social responsibility.
The 2,200-employee company also owns and operates S.B. Foot Tanning Company, which supplies premium leather for footwear, apparel, furniture and other applications.
She will look to the workforce for help as she takes the reins of Red Wing Shoe Company.
“There's nothing quite so rewarding as empowering your team to accomplish something incredible, and the challenges that the last few years have brought have certainly brought out the superheroes in this company,” she said.
Gettings will be balancing work responsibilities with home life. She and her husband, Adam, have a daughter and a baby boy on the way. They live in St. Paul where she enjoys spending time with her family outside, playing board games, reading and tending her garden.
The family still has significant roots in the Red Wing community. As Gettings settles into her new position, those roots will be important.
“I hope for Red Wing Shoes to see continued success, building on the foundation of those that have made incredible contributions before us and to continue our legacy of innovation and excellence,” Gettings said. “I am passionate about leading this business such that our brands and our employees can both thrive. I hope to follow in my father’s, grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s footsteps, evolving and advancing our portfolio of brands so we can keep making a difference in people’s lives.”