Movado Group Inc. Stays True in Times of Change

Sallie DeMarsilis positions finance to help spur growth while maintaining the integrity of luxury watch company Movado Group Inc.

In 1947, American designer Nathan George Howitt fashioned Movado Group Inc.’s signature museum watch: a stark dial featuring a lone dot held in the twelve o’clock position, a minimalist nod to the sun at high noon. Heralded as a symbol of modernism, the iconic design quickly became synonymous with the luxury watch brand.

Nearly six decades later, Movado’s timepiece collections continue to entice buyers around the globe. That’s not to say the brand hasn’t encountered real challenges along the way, the most obvious, of course, being that people no longer need watch accessories the way they used to. Yet, where so many legacy companies falter by giving way to reinvention, Movado Group Inc. maintains its relevance by staying true to its roots.

This simple, but significant perspective is set in motion largely by Movado’s talented management team, including Sallie DeMarsilis, Movado’s senior vice president and chief financial officer. DeMarsilis joined the organization in early 2008, right before the recession and the advent of smart technology—the combination of which resulted in a rocky retail environment.

That’s when the company switched its focus from advertising and routine product assortments to zeroing in on the Movado consumer, according to DeMarsilis.

“When we were going through the recession, we hunkered down and looked internally for ways to improve,” DeMarsilis says. “Before we focused on great marketing and sales. Now, we had to look at who was wearing our watches and why. The consumer is so smart that you really have to give them a compelling reason to buy.”

In addition to holding focus groups and conducting other forms of customer research, Movado dug into merchandising, product design, and insight into the current marketplace.

“People thought that they knew what the consumer wanted. Now, we are legitimately listening to them,” DeMarsilis says. “If you stay at your desk, you don’t get that. Our focus is now on innovation, beautiful design, and our strong product pipeline—the next generation, so to speak.”

Sometimes that means reaching into the archives to update classic looks to make them relevant to a new audience; collaborating with media, artists and celebrities; and, of course, embracing change.

For example, Movado has launched a new line of connected watches to its tech-savvy customers. Unlike other smart watches, however, Movado has designed the watches to look and feel like their analog pieces—yet another way the company stays true to its DNA.

“We’re resonating with the younger consumer,” DeMarsilis says. “It wasn’t the one who aged with us, like back in the 1980s.”

Interestingly, it was during the 1980s that DeMarsilis was first introduced to the world of consumer goods. Fresh off of earning her bachelor’s degree in accounting from Boston College, she went to work for Deloitte, where she held a variety of traditional roles within the professional services firm, including at its national office. “I loved the pace and the environment and knew that was what I wanted to do,” DeMarsilis says. “But the industry I kept gravitating to was consumer goods.”

One of her clients happened to be fashion retailer Ann Taylor. DeMarsilis says she jumped at the chance when the company offered her a position. “Being in consumer goods, especially luxury, was something I found really rewarding,” she says. “In the finance of things, it’s not exactly sexy or creative, but it helps that I’m engaged in something consumers love: great product at compelling prices. I knew I could help a company succeed in doing that.”

A lot of her success was due in part to timing, she explains. DeMarsilis came aboard at Ann Taylor before the company surged onto the national scene, the growth of its e-commerce and factory store concepts, and the launch of Ann Taylor Loft, the brand’s more casual output. As the company grew, DeMarsilis climbed the corporate ladder and grew right along with it.

“That’s where I learned to roll up my sleeves and became a jack-of-all-trades, helping with cross-functional teams, growth, and strategy,” DeMarsilis explains. “They probably grew over 400 percent in stores in a relatively short period of time. It was extremely fast-paced.”

DeMarsilis’s work with Ann Taylor soon caught the attention of American textile and clothing company The Warnaco Group, the parent company and licensor behind several iconic brands, including Calvin Klein Jeans, Calvin Klein Underwear, Chaps, Speedo, Warner’s, and Olga. (The group has since been acquired by PVH Corp.)After ten years, DeMarsilis left Ann Taylor to become Warnaco’s senior vice president of finance, and was summarily introduced to wholesaling on the global stage.

“Ann Taylor was solely domestic and was strictly retail. We only had direct-to-consumer,” DeMarsilis says. “Warnaco was global. It was a little twist in the road there, wholesale as well as retail.”

Unlike Ann Taylor, which was on a growth track, Warnaco was a mature company with several brands to balance. “We had to think, ‘What does each brand need for resources and to keep them true?” DeMarsilis explains. “The DNA of each brand is unique. Consumers want to think of all of these as different. It was difficult and fascinating, and very much helps me in my current role.”

Like Warnaco, Movado Group Inc. is a multibrand global company. In addition to its namesake brand, it is also the watchmaker behind Concord and Ebel, as well as the licensed Coach, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Juicy Couture, and Ferrari lines. Also like Warnaco, these lines range in customer base and price points—from about $75 for fashion watches to up to $10,000 for luxury designs.

While DeMarsilis contends her role as CFO is largely traditional—her work centers on finance, forecasting, investor relations, financial reporting, treasury, taxes, and new business and licensing agreements—she says a large part of her draw to Movado is its creative and collaborative environment. It’s entrepreneurial in spirit, she adds. “I love that I get involved in all aspects of the company,” DeMarsilis says. “Our top priority is our customers and staying true to our brands. It’s who we are.”