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Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Career of Steven Lagos Comes Full Circle

Steven Lagos

Steven Lagos founded his eponymous jewelry brand 1977 in Philadelphia. The company gradually grew to become one of the best-known jewelry brands in the US, with an extremely loyal following. LAGOS specializing in sterling silver jewelry. Its products are sold in more than 300 stores, including Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and independent jewelry retailers. 

In February Lagos announced that he will step down from his CEO position to focus on his roles as chairman and creative director of the company. He described the change as both a natural progression for him and the company and as a dream come true as he can now put all of his focus on designing jewelry, which is why he entered the business in the first place. 

What follows is an interview I had with Lagos as he prepares for the next stage of his career. 

Anthony DeMarco: Why make this move now?
Steven Lagos: These management changes are the result of reaching our objectives within our long term strategic plan. While the wholesale customer base has consolidated, the retail marketplace is more fragmented than ever. When I first started you just focused on the stores, it was so easy. Today the customer is shopping everywhere. To stay competitive, the business must be scalable, and that requires significant resources. We define resources as "Money, Time and People." All three are critical and must work in unison.  Today, we are on track with our plan and know exactly what we want to do. This is the perfect time for me to step aside.

AD: How long have you been planning this?
SL: It’s been part of the master plan for a while.  In big companies they say it’s best to have a new CEO every seven years. I think 37 years is a pretty long run. 

Caviar, made of textured sterling silver, is the company’s iconic jewelry design 

AD: Is this a first step toward retirement?
SL: Retire from what? I love my work and my job. It provides me a fantastic lifestyle and is really interesting. I’m a creative type. I managed the business for all this time to get exactly where I am. Design Director is my dream title.  

AD: What are your responsibilities going to be?
SL: I started the business from the creative side. To relinquish my day to day business responsibilities is a dream come true for me. While I’m proud of the creative work I‘ve been doing, I think I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible. There is much more to explore. Creativity and design will be my main responsibility.

AD: You are showing a lot of faith in Chris Cullen, how has he earned it?
SL: Chris joined the company seven years ago as president and was charged with transforming LAGOS into a professionally operated, world‐class brand. For 31 years, I was creating products and selling in the best channels. We developed a cult following but were never able break through and scale our success. Chris is a team builder and professional manager. He created and has executed a vision of the company that leveraged our heritage and product portfolio, while developing new systems that focused on adapting to the changing marketplace. He has definitely earned it.

AD: Are you looking at creating new designs? New materials? New price points? Last year you seemed to introduce more expensive items? 
SL: I’m 100% interested in new designs and materials. Jewelry is so dynamic and versatile. Gold was logical as it build on our existing portfolio in both materials and price points.  With any product you have to innovate to stay relevant.   We won’t be adding new categories.  We are focused on being a women’s lifestyle jewelry brand.  We want to offer our customers jewelry for every time and occasion. 

AD: Is the company itself going to update its brand image?
SL: We are not updating the brand image, but rather re-affirming what the brand stands for and what makes it successful, which is our signature Caviar design, the bold femininity we want to convey, as well as our values; strength and integrity. The campaign we launched last fall “MY LAGOS MY WAY” (pictured below) is a result of this strategy.

AD: What is one or two of your best memories and/or accomplishments at Lagos?
SL: In 37 years there have been so many it would be hard to single out one or two. I think my best memories all involve people.  Jewelry is so intimate and personal. It’s an honor to be able to create and have people purchase and cherish your work for its beauty. The magic is the personal stories attached to each piece.  

AD: How do you see your future and the future of your company?
SL: We are building a brand. We have always prided ourselves in running a balanced, well run organization.  We believe that there is a lot of opportunity in the market and want to stay focused on building our brand.

AD: When you first started what were your goals and how have they changed over the years?
SL: When I started it was so much easier to focus. The distribution was simple–some retail stores and some mail order clients. Today the customer is shopping everywhere. It’s so different and fragmented. You need to focus on a lot of different distributions, often for the same business. 

AD: Did you ever think you would have a created a brand such as Lagos? 
SL: Growing up, I always wanted to be an artist and sign and sell my work. Creating LAGOS was my way of realizing this dream. I am super proud of what we have accomplished and humbled with what is left to do. 

Please join me on the Jewelry News Network Facebook Page, on Twitter @JewelryNewsNet and on the Forbes website.