Forbes CIO-plus Series: Joe Topinka, Red Wing Shoes

November 18, 2013
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The CIO Takes Over Multichannel Commerce

by Peter High, published on


Red Wing Shoes has been a well-known brand for over a century especially among those who require the highest quality work boots. For those who do not conduct the sort of work that requires work boots, however, the brand may be more familiar due to the oxfords, chukkas, and the like that are sold  as the Red Wing Heritage Collection in partnership with retailers such as Brooks Brothers, Nordstrom, and J. Crew.

Joe Topinka brought his size 15 feet to the Minnesota-based shoe company in May of 2008 as the company’s first ever chief information officer. (Foot size is listed on employees’ business cards.) Recognizing the opportunity to leverage technology more creatively to market and sell Red Wing Shoes’ products, Topinka pushed the organization to develop a more creative multichannel commerce strategy. He made the case so effectively that in recent months, he was given responsibility for multichannel commerce for the entire company, taking on a rare but quite logical CIO-plus role that other business-to-consumer companies will likely adopt in the future.

(This is the 16th interview in the CIO-plus series. To be apprised of future articles in the series, click the “Follow” link above. To read past interviews with CIO-pluses from companies like ADP, P&G, Waste Management, McKesson, and Walgreens, please visit this link.)

Peter High: Joe, can you describe Red Wing Shoes’ business?

Joe Topinka: Red Wing Shoes is an iconic, 108 year old footwear manufacturer and retailer. The company has maintained its roots in the city by the same name where it was founded in 1905. Red Wing Shoes operates in over 100 countries, with global manufacturing anchored in Red Wing, MN. For over a century, Red Wing’s purpose-built footwear has been at the spearhead of innovation and the standard of excellence for work footwear.

Additional topics covered in the article include:

  • You joined the company as CIO over five and a half years ago, and in the past year, you added the role of Vice President of Multichannel Marketing to your responsibilities. Please describe each of those roles, and the logic of having a single executive responsible for each.
  • Multichannel retail has become the Holy Grail, especially in an environment where traditional shoe retailers have to think about competing with Amazon while also potentially partnering with them, as you do through Zappos. What has been your multichannel approach, and what lessons have you drawn that might apply more broadly to retailers who may not be as far down the path as Red Wing Shoes?
  • The company has long been steadfastly known for high-end work boots, but consumers may have noticed major partnerships that have brought Red Wing Shoes to Brooks Brothers and J. Crew.  How has the company thought about leveraging these prestigious partnerships versus selling boots directly?
  • How do you divide your time between your responsibilities as CIO and your multichannel responsibilities?
  • Do you have separate teams for each, and, if so, how do they collaborate?
  • You are just about to publish a new book, IT Business Partnerships: A Field Guide. What are the main themes of the book, and how do you hope your peers among the IT executive community will use it?

To read the full article, please visit

To explore other CIO-plus Series articles, please click here.

To explore the Technovation Column library, please click here.

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