Boss Up: From Administrative Assistant to Senior Director of Global Retail at Red Wing Shoe Company

Boss Up: From Administrative Assistant to Senior Director of Global Retail at Red Wing Shoe Company

When Marisa Kinney joined Red Wing Shoe Company as an administrative assistant with the retail team, she was simply looking for a job a little closer to home. The hour commute from Red Wing, Minnesota to the Twin Cities each day was taking a toll on her work-life balance.  

“I took a chance on Red Wing Shoe Company, which we affectionally call ‘The Shoe’ here in my hometown of Red Wing,” Kinney said in a recent online Lunch and Learn with the Buxton team. “Growing up, I didn’t really give the company the respect it probably deserved, but I thought ‘There’s an admin opening. I’m going to put my hat in the ring, see what happens.’”

That was the start of a career spanning nearly two decades with one of the most beloved and prominent American brands. Kinney’s journey began as a retail administrative assistant, with stints as a property manager, director of global real estate development, and now the senior director of global retail. In this role, she’s responsible for bringing new franchise or dealership partners into the Red Wing family.

“I was fortunate that I had a couple of advocates here in the organization that knew me and said, ‘Let’s take a chance on her – she’s young, she’s aggressive, she’s as go-getter,” Kinney said. “They allowed me to have a seat at the table and professionally voice my opinion and navigate my way within the retail organization.” 

As Kinney navigated her way through administrative tasks such as executive correspondence, store visit reports, and making travel arrangements, she asked questions, gained exposure to different facets of the organization, and learned the ins and outs of the retail industry. 

The more Kinney learned, the more she wanted to know. And it wasn’t long before she found herself craving a more challenging role within The Shoe. When an opening turned up for a real estate property manager position, she saw her chance. 

“I went to Jim Anderson, who was my VP at the time, and I said, ‘You’re creating that open position. I want that job,’” Kinney said. “He looked at me like I had two heads, and he said, ‘Well, you don’t have any experience there. What have you done from a real estate perspective?’”

Kinney was confident that her experience buying a house and her knowledge of the company’s stores was more than adequate to do the job and do it well. Despite that confidence, Kinney didn’t get the job. 

Not yet, anyway. 

Nine months later, when the position opened again, Kinney threw her hat into the ring again. But this time, things were different: she had a plan to go back to school for both her real estate license and a degree in property management, as well as an advocate in the hiring manager, Jim Anderson. 

“I am fortunate to have worked for a retail professional who came from Sears when Sears was the retailer,” Kinney said. “He brought that knowledge here to Red Wing, and he brought great people here, too – people who helped establish who we would become in the next generation of Red Wing retail.” 

The Next Generation: Bringing Your Voice to the Table

What had once seemed like a closed door was now wide open as Kinney began the next phase of her professional life. 

“I knew Red Wing was going to be a career when I got the property manager job the second time I applied,” she said. “I looked across my shoulder at my peers, and these were the people who I wanted to build my career with. These were the people I wanted to work for. These were the people who had invested in me. I thought to myself, ‘This is it. This is a career. Am I going to land in my hometown working for The Shoe?’ And I said yes, and I keep saying yes each and every day.” 

Kinney’s certainty and dedication has helped her through difficult times at Red Wing, including the COVID pandemic and a recent cybersecurity breach. 

“I don’t like to say that things are hard because challenges are what build us,” Kinney said. “Two years ago, when we went remote, it was the cool factor. We had our cameras on and were like, ‘Where the heck are you in your house? Show me that.’ We thought it was a ‘we’ll be back in the office in two weeks’ kind of thing, but then it lingered and lingered and lingered.”

Community has always been part of Kinney’s DNA. Whether she’s volunteering for programs like Meals on Wheels, industry trade organizations, her local chamber of commerce, her church, or she’s listening and learning through community conversation about social and economic issues, it’s always been important to her to give back to where she lives. 

But working remotely means Kinney has had to be more intentional about how she builds community at work, and that intentionality starts with flexibility, empathy, and cameras on during meetings. 

“We’re all in this together,” Kinney said. “I trust that everyone on my team is going to do what needs to be done in order to get the job done. And if they can’t, I expect them to raise a hand. That’s courage. There’s got to be an open dialogue. But it’s also good to have a manager who is accepting of who you are. For me, I am first and foremost a mom and a wife.”

While growing her career at Red Wing Shoe Company, Kinney also grew her family to include a daughter. She spent her days running from meetings and emails to daycare and doctor appointments. All the while focusing on being a leader in both her organization and her community.  

“I work for a male-dominated brand, and real estate tends to also be a male-dominated industry,” Kinney pointed out. “I struggled with that at first, frankly. But at the end of the day, ladies, this is where we boss up, right? When we contribute and gather information, we act as if we’re the decision-makers and figure out what we need to know to make business decisions. We know our facts, we know our figures, but more importantly, we know who we are and what we’re capable of. It’s challenging because sometimes we’re put in positions where we need to prove ourselves. But we’re strong women, and we bring our voices to the table.” 

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