Finding the Right Fit

Rick Bettencourt is an expert at overcoming adversity. The shoe-retail veteran kept his team motivated during a bankruptcy and subsequent ownership change at Nine West Canada. Now, his team is reinvigorated as the company takes its next step.

Additional reporting by Nicholas Vroman

For those in the Canadian footwear industry, the work can be like putting on a pair of shoes that are too tight—once you step in, it’s nearly impossible to step out.

Take Rick Bettencourt, who today is Nine West Canada’s vice president of corporate merchandise, retail operations, wholesale sales, e-commerce, and marketing. Bettencourt got his start in footwear at sixteen years old, when he worked part-time at Switzerland-based shoe manufacturer and retailer Bata to put himself through university.

Since Bettencourt went to school to become an accountant, it seemed only natural that he joined an accounting firm after graduation. Perhaps it was his entrepreneurial pedigree—Bettencourt’s grandmother had run a multimillion-dollar real estate business, and his father was a business owner, as well—but Bettencourt found that his work at the firm wasn’t fulfilling all of his passions.

“There was this creative side of me that wasn’t being tapped into,” says Bettencourt. So he pivoted away from the accounting firm and instead rejoined the Bata team, this time as a buyer. His love for the industry, combined with his accounting education, put Bettencourt on the fast track to a senior position at Bata, where he would eventually lead high-growth ventures as well as its strategic-buying direction. He continued to ply his expertise and leverage his passion for footwear with a position at department store Hudson’s Bay Company before expanding his scope to menswear and womenswear at luxury brand retailer Holt Renfrew. Bettencourt then founded the Academy Showroom Inc. in 2013, where he led sales and marketing initiatives based on eleven international contemporary designer brands—which garnered appreciation from both retailers and stylists.

But now, twenty years after starting in women’s footwear, Bettencourt finds himself coming full circle at Nine West Canada. “Footwear has been my niche,” he says. “You can never get out of shoes—I definitely love the emotional connection with the product.” It’s that connection with the business’s core that has allowed Bettencourt to lead Nine West Canada through one of the biggest transitions in its history.

Taking It in Stride

In June 2015, the Sherson Group, the licensee of the Nine West brand in Canada and owner of the Canadian retail locations since 1999, filed for protection, leaving the future of the brand’s more than forty-five Canadian retail locations in jeopardy. By August 2015, Nine West Holdings—the original US-based company that founded the Nine West brand—acquired the Sherson Group’s operations, which included its Nine West Canada locations.

Bettencourt, who joined the Sherson Group as its vice president of retail merchandise and marketing the year prior, was thrust into what easily could have been a dire situation. Yet the VP had already endured a much more onerous challenge that put this new company transition into a  more manageable light: after twenty years of marriage and raising two well-adjusted daughters, Bettencourt came out of the closet and filed for divorce. Bankruptcy and divorce often mark the end of relationships, but the way Bettencourt saw it, these were opportunities for growth for everyone involved.

“Coming out and maintaining a strong and healthy relationship with my ex-wife and family demonstrates that any and all obstacles can be overcome with mutual respect for each other,” Bettencourt says. “If I take anything from my personal experience and my career experience, it’s the ability to work through challenges with communication and caring.” Bettencourt applied the same approach from this difficult part of his personal life to the transition from Sherson to Nine West Canada.

Bettencourt’s team came together, communicated daily, and found solutions to ensure a smooth changeover. “In any transition, you go through a lot of turmoil and uncertainty,” says Bettencourt. “But we were quick to get back on our feet.” In order to do this, he put a particular emphasis on staying in touch with his team. Bettencourt focused on the day-to-day and remained positive, while assisting strategically on the new Canadian entity under the Nine West Holdings umbrella.

My goal was to keep everyone engaged and retain the talent that we have,” Bettencourt says. “From the moment I walked into the building, it was about high motivation. I wanted people to see that there was still a smile on my face, because if I showed any signs of distress, that would have had a ripple effect throughout the organization.”*

What kept Bettencourt motivated was his experience in the footwear industry, particularly his previous dealings with new parent Nine West Holdings. “I knew that they would definitely improve our business,” he says.

The Next Step

Previously operating as a privately owned licensee company under Sherson Group, the company had certain limitations. Yet now that Nine West Canada is part of the larger parent company, it has access to more resources, added support, and a global viewpoint. For example, Bettencourt has found that the organization can now make the necessary technology upgrades to make its data readily accessible. One of the first projects for the company is a transition to enterprise software solution SAP. Without the support of its global parent, this project may not have been possible.

However, Nine West Holdings understands that for Nine West Canada to be successful, it cannot lose the brand identity that the Sherson Group—and its talented staff—established, so Nine West Canada will continue to operate as an independent company.

As a senior executive of the company, Bettencourt is motivated by what the brand still has to offer the Canadian marketplace. “There is a lot of market share that we’ve left untapped,” he says. Bettencourt is excited to lead his team as it looks at new pricing strategies, offers a more diverse product assortment, and introduces a new loyalty program.

“We’re looking at initiatives that are going to elevate the brand,” Bettencourt says. Because Nine West retained him, Bettencourt is obviously seen as a valuable partner, and he has no plans to betray those expectations. “I’m thrilled to be recognized by Nine West Holdings as a valuable executive to the organization who is going to be instrumental in leading the company into the exciting future,” he says.

Whether it’s for Sherson Group or Nine West, Bettencourt will always be the perfect fit.

*Continuing the conversation with . . .

Alex Flint, Eisai Limited:
“It’s natural to be scared of change, and particularly so when the change stems from poor corporate performance. Fear can be highly contagious in times like that, and I agree and can understand how important it was for you to combat the epidemic as much as possible.”

Brian Pynn, ATB Financial:
“I completely agree. We went through a significant leadership change in our compliance department in 2012, and it was important to focus on the positive and paint a bright future for the remaining team.”

“Rick, were there team members that saw your ‘smile’ as disingenuous and challenged you, and if so how did you deal with them?”

Bettencourt: “I can honestly say my smile wasn’t disingenuous. Because I remained focused on the day-to-day operation of the business, I didn’t allow the transition to disrupt my management style or high energy way of being. The organization actually became increasingly engaged throughout the transition. We underwent a new ERP implementation over the last several months, and I received accolades from a senior partner on the teamʼs level of engagement and speed of learning of the new platform during what could have been challenging times.”