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Rising Stars For 2007


New leadership is the lifeblood of any industry, and retail is no exception. That’s one of the reasons Chain Store Age enjoys devoting space to its annual “Rising Stars: 40 Under 40” feature. Each of the individuals profiled is making a mark in the retail industry. Together, they represent a new generation of leadership that is transforming retailing in the 21st century.

As in past years, the selection process for Rising Stars began with open nominations from professionals in the retail industry and related fields. From those nominees, our editors culled the list to its current form.

Our 2007 Stars, who range in age from 24 to 40, include two husband-and-wife teams, two Internet whiz kids and a part-time martial-arts instructor. Their individual stories run the gamut. Some have multiple college degrees; others have none. Some started their own companies from the ground up; others have flourished in family businesses or well-established chains. The one common thread that connects them all is a passion for what they do.

Our Rising Stars are as diverse as the industry they represent. Among this year’s list are:

Richard Ybarra, the 37-year-old VP and director of stores for Charlotte Russe and featured on this issue’s cover, who enjoys being on the front lines for the 360-plus store chain;

Veronica Smith Katz, 38, VP of strategic partnerships for David’s Bridal, who derives her greatest professional satisfaction in mentoring; and

Jason Gautereaux, 36, Sport Chalet’s VP, merchandise planning and inventory management, who started out as a scuba instructor at 18 and worked his way up through the ranks.

The 2007 Rising Stars compilation is a rich resource of talent. We salute this year’s stars, all of whom have demonstrated the innovative spirit, resourcefulness and integrity that are the essence of leadership.

It wasn’t easy being a UCLA Bruin in a family of USC Trojans. But Richard Ybarra, 37, has resolutely put college days and football losses behind him, and established a winning record in retail executive management that includes 14 years in district and regional managerial positions with Pacific Sunwear and American Eagle Outfitters. He landed at San Diego-based Charlotte Russe just over a year ago as VP, director of stores.

Heading up field operations for the 360-plus-unit chain of young women’s apparel stores has allowed Ybarra to do what he does best: interact with people.

“If I had to pinpoint one specialty, it would be my interaction with the people in the field,” Ybarra said. “I also gain much satisfaction from the strategic planning process—planning where we’re going and how we are going to get there.”

But it is from Charlotte Russe staffers that Ybarra derives the greatest satisfaction.

Richard Ybarra, 37

VP, director of stores, Charlotte Russe, San Diego Major accomplishment: Bringing the Charlotte Russe field organization together with one vision, one focus

“The people are why I do what I do,” he said. “I look back at my prior supervisors who had the greatest impact on me, the ones who were able to drive me and push me—and that inspires me to do the same. I want to be able to instill that drive, that motivation within this organization at Charlotte Russe.”

Ybarra’s “people focus” isn’t just on the top rung of the organization. He feels every bit as strongly about the store-level sales associate working for minimum wage.

“You have to make sure that they all are feeling important and motivated,” he explained. “It is essential to have regular and meaningful interaction with the field personnel, to assure that they always have someone to encourage them, mentor them, show them what direction to go. This is the part of my job that really keeps me going.”

Ybarra’s regular interaction with the Charlotte Russe field staff means that he is squarely on the front lines with a hefty division of the company that encompasses a huge number of employees.

“I oversee the entire field, which is, of course, all of the stores, their personnel, the district managers and the regional managers,” he said. “As well, loss prevention falls within my realm of scope, which means that I oversee the loss-prevention managers and the personnel below them.” Another group of Ybarra’s direct reports—central operations—consists of a director of communications, a director of financial analysis “and the supporting roles below them as well.”

“It’s big,” Ybarra said, “as it handles the largest portion of personnel for the Charlotte Russe organization. But anytime you have the field, that’s going to be the case.”

With the enormity of the responsibilities that come with the job, Ybarra struggles to maintain a balance in his life. He spends a good four days out of every week in the field.

“The travel is inescapable, as it is essential that I be out there, paying attention that the sales are being generated where they are supposed to, and watching the interaction at all levels, from the regional level all the way down to that sales associate,” Ybarra said.

Part of his job is also ensuring that the customer experience is what it is supposed to be, underscoring the executional standards and making sure that the chain not only is meeting the baselines but that it continues to elevate them in the direction needed to compete in the fast-fashion market.

But Ybarra is determined that the frequent travel that comes with retail field operations won’t undermine that which he holds most dear.

“I remember when my daughter Isabella was about 7 or 8 months old,” he said, “and I returned home from a prolonged business trip. She didn’t recognize her dad!”

Ybarra knew then that he had to make a big change, and “find a better way to balance that work and life piece.”

“I have a picture of my wife Leslie and my little girl Isabella on my BlackBerry and on my laptop that is with me at all times,” he said. “It can be very easy, with all of the stress and pressure, to lose your perspective, to lose that balance between work and life. My 5-year-old daughter amazes me everyday; seeing life through her eyes illuminates the ordinary.”

As the EDI (electronic data interchange) manager for The adidas Group’s sports license division, Dan Ball, 34, is committed to helping people understand that “EDI is not a necessary evil. It can actually help generate revenue.”

In 1993, Ball accepted his first IT position in the banking industry. When he transitioned to a leading automotive supplier in 1995, he was introduced to EDI, a process that enables companies to electronically exchange business transactions.

Dan Ball, 34

EDI manager, Sports license division of The adidas Group, Indianapolis Major Accomplishment: Educating his company and business partners about the benefits of EDI, and producing revenue-generating results.

After spending eight years overseeing industry enterprise resource planning integration and supply chain management projects, Ball became EDI manager for a division of Reebok International. In early 2006, Reebok was purchased by The adidas Group, where Ball is currently EDI manager for the sports license division.

Ball has shaped his job efforts on two philosophies: improve processes and customer service to deliver higher quality products at a lower cost; and reduce process variation to streamline operations. By applying these at The adidas Group, overall EDI volume is up by 143%, and error-rates dropped by 97%.

Ball doesn’t discount the contribution of hi

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