Paul Stuart's Garafalo speaks at Mitsui USA Lunchtime Forum

In the final lecture of the annual Mitsui USA Lunchtime Forum series, the Weissman Center for International Business at Baruch College hosted the President and CEO of Paul Stuart, Paulette Garafalo. The talk, titled “Running a Man’s World,” focused on some of the challenges of managing a high-end luxury apparel company at a time when most of the industry is shifting from brick-and-mortar stores to internet-based operations.

Garafalo, who graduated from Baruch with a bachelor’s degree of business administration in marketing and an MBA in international business, was invited to share some of her career tips and life experiences from working in the retail industry. After starting out as a part-time employee in her local Hallmark Greeting Card store, Garafalo worked her way up into a long, illustrious career in international business, successfully managing companies in Europe, Japan and the United States.

“When I studied international marketing, I never dreamed that I would cover India, Latin America, Russia or China,” she said.

Some of her previous roles in retail include CEO of The Americas for Bally, CEO and Group President for the Hartmarx Luxury Group at Hickey Freeman and more recently, president of International, Wholesale and Manufacturing at Brooks Brothers.

Since joining the company in June 2016, one of Garafalo’s main objectives for Paul Stuart has been to turn the business from a retailer into a brand. According to her, in previous roles, she recognized the importance of “learning the core value of the brand and staying true to it.”

“Whenever I go to a new project at any time in my career, the first thing I do is hire a branding agency,” she said. “I never pretend to know every company that I work for. There’s always a heritage and there’s always a core to that business. And when people come in and try to make a business something it’s not, it breaks.”

Another initiative that she hopes will result in the company’s long-term success is the premiere of a new luxury line, the “Made on Madison” collection. Garafalo was inspired to initiate the program after realizing the potential of the company’s highly skilled in-house tailors at its flagship store on Madison Avenue and 45th Street. According to the company’s website, Paul Stuart customers interested in the collection can view the work firsthand beginning early November. In addition to sharing her current projects, Garafalo also described some of the harsh realities of working in the retail market, saying, “It’s the hardest time in my career to be in this business. I have never tried so many different ideas so many times and you just have to keep trying because to be honest a lot of them aren’t working. It’s a very bad environment, but you just keep trying.”

Most recently, the company has been investing heavily in technology and data to boost sales and has also been focusing on its website and digital advertising to take advantage of the surging e-commerce market.

Following the presentation, professor Terrence F. Martell, director of the Weissman Center for International Business, opened the floor to questions from the audience. Some of the topics discussed included the company’s entry strategy into new regions like China and South Korea, as well as the possibility of bringing new cultural influences to Paul Stuart’s fashion line.

In response to a question about the current mergers and acquisitions taking place in the consumer and retail industry, Tak Shirai, chairman of Paul Stuart, answered that the company currently does not have a specific plan to build its portfolio yet, but will consider it in the future as the business expands.

“Paul Stuart is one of the brand businesses that [Mitsui] would like to manage appropriately and not to demolish the brand equity, the strength of it, and bring it to the next level with the help of Paulette and all of the resources that we have.” He continued saying, “We will probably learn a lot from our experience going through this business and that would be applied to other businesses as well.” In addition to being the official representative of the Paul Stuart brand in Japan, Mitsui is also the joint venture partner for Max Mara Italy and the exclusive distributor for Speedo in the same area.

Every year, the Mitsui USA Foundation sponsors six lunchtime forums at Baruch, bringing prominent speakers from the world of business to share their experiences with alumni, faculty and students. Since 1995, the Weissman Center for international Business has selected speakers for the forums by focusing on a range of topics, which include the political and policy environment, strategy and regional perspectives on international business.