New Leader at Lenox

By Allison Zisko

KatrinaHelmkampKatrina Helmkamp
Katrina Helmkamp, a consumer product company executive with a passion for product development, was named CEO of Lenox Corp., succeeding Peter Cameron, who will remain with the company as co-chairman of its board of directors. Lester Gribetz resigned as president and will also serve on the board.

The change in leadership is a management succession plan that positions Lenox as a market leader far into the future, according to Marc Utay, managing partner of Clarion Capital Partners, the private investment firm that has owned Lenox for seven years. It also signals Clarion’s commitment to the tabletop company. “There is no plan to sell the company any time soon,” Utay told HFN. With this new succession plan, Clarion plans “to hold the company for another three to five years,” he said.

“The good news for us is this sits in a fund that is so successful that our partners are happy about whatever we do.”

PeterCameronPeter Cameron
Utay laid out his vision for the brand. “A market-leading brand needs to meet its customers wherever they want to shop,” he said, noting the significant change in consumer decision making and shopping behavior that includes traditional tabletop outlets such as department and specialty stores but also includes pure-play online retailers and other alternative retail channels. “That is not a one- or two-year process.”

Succession plans needs to be carefully considered, and Utay said Lenox was able to do this in a pressure-free environment. But the leaders who devise the plan should also execute it, and Utay said that when Cameron and Gribetz, both lifelong industry veterans, were asked if they wanted to commit to another five to seven years with the company, “it forced them to look at where they are in their lives.”

Utay and Cameron have partnered on several successful housewares and tabletop businesses over the past 30 years. “He is a fabulous partner,” Utay said. “He and Lester Gribetz have done a great job [with the brand].”

LesterGribetzLester Gribetz
In a statement, Cameron said, “Lenox is a treasured American brand with dedicated employees. It has been my privilege to lead the business over these last eight years, and I am very proud of revitalizing Lenox’s prominence in the eyes of both our trade partners and consumers.

“Katrina Helmkamp is a dynamic executive who has a history of driving profitable growth in multiple formats and channels,” he continued. “I look forward to assisting Katrina in her new role, and introducing her to all of the company’s important stakeholders.”

Helmkamp is the former CEO of SVP Worldwide, one of the world’s largest sewing machine companies whose brands include Singer, Husqvarna Viking and Pfaff. Prior to that, she was senior vice president of Whirlpool Corp., where she led product development for North America and improved margins and market share, according to Lenox. Before joining Whirlpool, Helmkamp served as group president of ServiceMaster, responsible for the branch-based businesses of Terminix, TruGreen Lawn and TruGreen LandCare. Earlier in her career, Helmkamp was a strategy consultant and partner with The Boston Consulting Group.

In her past leadership roles, Helmkamp handled multiple brands in multiple sales channels and was involved with product development, which dovetails nicely with the industrial engineering and marketing degrees she holds, Helmkamp told HFN. In Lenox, “I’m attracted to the fantastic portfolio of brands, the highly knowledgeable people who work here and the winning designs.

“I’m passionate about deeply understanding consumers and consumer shopping behavior and bringing products to market in a way that makes sense.” She said she sees an opportunity to do more consumer research, such as consumer “shop-alongs” to better understand how consumers do their research and go through their decision-making process as they shop the category, and also how they express themselves when they entertain.

Cooking show presentations and the trend in outdoor dining spell opportunities for tabletop, she said.

“We’re extremely excited,” Utay said about Helmkamp’s appointment. “Katrina is a very talented executive and she has inherited a company that is winning in the marketplace. She is a great choice.”

Gribetz will assist Lenox in transitioning his role to a successor while at the same time pursuing outside interests, Lenox said.

“Lester is one of the true creative forces in the home fashion, tabletop and housewares industries,” Cameron said. “He has an incomparable eye for current trends, and a charisma that has made him endearing to colleagues, customers and suppliers for decades. While we are excited for Lester, and pleased that he will continue on with the company as a director, we will miss his day-to-day involvement dearly.”

“We can’t thank Lester enough for his contributions to Lenox over the past seven years,” Utay said. “It is rare for us to work with an executive with such a strong combination of design and business instincts. Lester has a passion, work ethic and energy level that is beyond compare.”

Gribetz said, “I have enjoyed my time at Lenox, and am proud of the company’s accomplishments and all the terrific colleagues I have worked with. Lenox is the unquestioned design and innovation leader in the tabletop industry, and I feel bittersweet in my decision to pursue new opportunities outside the company. I am pleased to continue on as a director, and I look forward to assisting the company with a smooth transition.”

 

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