MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Aris Lallas
Can you imagine a world where humility was a prerequisite for leadership? It wouldn’t be a rare occurrence to work for a leader that inspired you daily, one in which you were constantly in awe of their integrity. A world where excellence is ingrained into you from birth, and a strong foundation is built by being surrounded by your multi-generational family. Where you’re taught that what seems impossible is possible because you’ve witnessed it firsthand. Well, at our October JAG Collective Cafe meeting, the attendees were fortunate enough to listen to Aris Lallas present his inspiring journey which fits this description. From strong family roots, solid core values, optimism and a
relentless work ethic.
COMING TO AMERICA
Aris’s family came to America from Greece with $40 in their pockets, and they didn’t speak the language at all. What they did have was a strong sense of pride in their family, heritage, and determination to succeed and provide for those back home. As a young boy he watched as his parents worked in restaurants, and then opened their own restaurants, bars and then later clothing stores.
They managed multiple businesses with no formal schooling, or training. Just sheer determination and dedication. Early on he learned what hard work was, cleaning up the bar and restaurant after closing, and working in his Father’s Western Clothing stores in Salinas, California. He developed his passion for the apparel industry.
His Mom was also an entrepreneur. She owned a Merle Norman cosmetic store and her approach was more on the softer side. It was from her that he learned the importance of human connection, and watched how she would take time to invest in her customers. He developed an understanding of different markets, consumers and their various needs.
GOOD IS THE ENEMY OF GREAT
As Aris began his career he stood by his belief system. “Good is the enemy of great” - the title of one of his favorite books by Jim Collins. Meaning that settling for good can make you complacent. Having that inner drive to excel allowed him to make a huge impact on each brand that he worked for.
Liz Claiborne was his first job out of college, and during the interview process the company's CEO and namesake made quite the impression on the budding leader. She popped her head into the lobby and asked “Who are you?” Aris recognized her right away and said “I’m Aris, I’m here for the interview.” To which Liz replied “That is the most interesting name I have ever heard.” This was the first time someone had ever told him this, as he had experienced judgment in the past over his unique name.
Working in the corporate design department there, they oversaw all of the product lines. He learned 3 important things while working at Liz Claiborne. 1) When you have multiple brands that are selling the same item they have to have a point of difference 2) Liz was one of the first leaders to own the real estate in the store and controlling the destiny of your retail space was imperative, and 3) They developed capsules, and knew how much to buy based on development ratios, and what percentages resulted in the greatest sales. These were key learnings that would stick with him throughout his career.
His next role was for Express, where he had the opportunity to learn about fast fashion. They were working off of 90 day calendars as opposed to 1 year calendars at Liz Claiborne. Here merchants would grow tired of an item, despite how well it was performing. And this is where he learned the importance of listening to what the customer wants.
From Express he went to Guess, which was a very profitable private company at the time. This company was hyper focused on image and he learned just how image can really drive product sales.
After 5 years at Guess he was recruited by Disney in Orlando which would be a completely different experience than what he was used to. But it was his chance to really make waves. Aris dove headfirst into the world of entertainment and media, which fused into his role over consumer products and brand management. He realized a whole new level of pressure and scope of work. He now worked with products which were directly related to rides, and movies or another type of entertainment vehicle. He went from managing hundreds of styles to thousands of styles in a month.
After some time he realized there were 3 divisions that were doing nearly the same thing, yet they were not connected, and they were not leveraging their talent. He went to the executives with a proposal to merge these divisions and come back with a creative organization which would save money, be more efficient and carry them into the future. By the end of that year he was able to save them $7 million dollars, and the team had never been happier. He was able to compensate people more equitably across the organization, and through these changes they picked up 33% million in the first full year.
One day after delivering a presentation, a chief brand officer pulled him aside and asked him to work in consumer products and brand management within another division of Disney. This new opportunity brought him back to California, where he was promoted to Vice President. The lessons learned at Disney were invaluable to Aris. He learned how to use his level of influence to help people along in their journey, while showing them how to use their own resources to create something incredible.
Aris then took his skills to MAY company where he was able to help them through a merger with Macy’s. During his time there he had the opportunity to to travel all over the world: India, Turkey, and Sri Lanka where they were in production. He gained powerful global insight learning the differences in many cultures and finding the similarities we ALL share no matter what part of the world you are from.
His next role was with White House | Black Market, a mid level specialty retailer. Despite being a smaller company it was one of the most complicated he had encountered in his career. Here he was able to cut the number of meetings in half, cut expenses by reducing the amount of unused resources. He learned that you have to simplify things to be able to implement change, rather than create additional complexity, he stripped it down and made it very simple.
“You have to be thoughtful and responsible with your work. And one of the things we were able to do with the White House was elevate the product, maintain the price points, expand the businesses that were strategic.”
THE FABRIC OF FAMILY
Now in his most recent role with Boot Barn he has quite literally been around the world and returned home. He is overseeing the 13 exclusive brands, everything from footwear boots, accessories, and it's
another complex business which seems to be his speciality.
“What's interesting is my dad started with Western wear and jeans and Levi's and Wrangler. And here I am, again, not only selling those brands and developing private label, exclusive brands to come with those organizations.”
What does it take to have this kind of success, and transform global organizations?
The answer was clear in listening to Aris tell the story of his personal and professional journey. Not only does he have a passion for simplifying complex businesses to reveal the path to profitability, but innately he knows that the only way to accomplish the latter is to treat people well. It all comes down to the core values he was raised on. His big Greek family, that instilled hard work, optimism, determination and never settling for anything less than excellence. Having the opportunity to travel and immerse himself in other cultures has culminated in a leadership style that recognizes the importance of building diverse teams. Over the years Aris and his teams have volunteered with Habitat Humanity, because through it all our most valuable asset will always be people.
Pictured volunteering with his team for Habitat for Humanity
“The only way to achieve true success is to express yourself completely in service to society.”