In the latest installment of the Roy S. Pung Executive Speaker Series, Sally Allen (B.A. Business Administration ’88), founder and president of Tanya Heath U.S., joined students to discuss her background in the retail industry and her latest entrepreneurial endeavor. Tanya Heath is a distributor of revolutionary shoes that enable women to walk confidently in comfortable and unique styles.
Allen’s passion and expertise in the retail industry first began when she was a department manager at Saks Fifth Avenue, responsible for staff and merchandise across eight different departments. By age 24, she led a team of 30 that generated $8 million for the company.
Later on, she joined Ann Inc. as a store manager, then transitioned to other roles such as field manager, overseeing several stores, and moved to the company’s home office to become a business process analyst. After six years with the company, Allen rose to vice president of strategic client relationships. She was the program manager of Ann Taylor’s key strategic initiative to delight the client, and she directed the customization, integration and implementation of a first-to-market performance management reporting system.
slideshow has a previous and next buttons
“I went from a job that was about managing people and hitting performance targets to goals around how to scale a customer service initiative and customer experience across thousands of stores and tens and thousands of associates,” she said. “A whole different skillset, but I was able to use the knowledge that I had.”
After serving a 12-year tenure at Ann Inc., Allen became the vice president of client relationships at Yacobian Group, where she applied her previous experiences to large name brands to transform their performance management systems. After eight years in this position, she became a consultant for Sally Allen Retail, working with brick-and-mortar leaders to design and deliver client-specific strategies to improve employee performance and help senior leaders define their standards.
All this vast experience and her desire to open her own business has led to Allen’s current company, Tanya Heath U.S., where she continues to improve processes within the retail industry and empower women through shoes.
“I wanted a brand that incorporated this idea of accessible luxury, bringing European products to the U.S., but was rooted in social responsibility, ethical supply chain, fair labor standards, environmental standards. I found a product [Tanya Heath’s footwear] that I wanted to move forward with, and it embodied all those things.”
The products are made by expert artisans at small, family-owned factories based in Portugal and France who are committed to producing long-lasting, versatile footwear. Fabric and leathers are sourced from Italy with certifications for social responsibility and leather remnants.
With exclusive rights to distribute in the United States, Allen collaborates with Tanya Heath Paris to select styles to produce exclusively for Tanya Heath U.S. The company’s revolutionary approach to women’s footwear offers a timeless, luxury adjustable-height shoe by using interchangeable heel technology. Because of Allen’s accurate pulse on her customers’ shopping behavior and preferences, she is able to curate inventory tailored to meet the needs of American customers that often differs from European customers.
Allen discussed her small business’ growth opportunities and what she has been doing to achieve her 2023 performance goals. She also recognized that being an entrepreneur has its pros and cons while candidly sharing her own perspective. Being able to set her own priorities and schedule, leverage her skills and experience and build something independently were aspects she valued the most. However, she noted, there are also challenges, such as vulnerability, assumption of risk and setting boundaries, making mistakes and asking for help.
“Where I found a lot of help was from my LinkedIn,” she explained. “I went back and talked to people I hadn’t talked to in many years. I found experts from different industries or friends of friends to find someone that knows about various things like harmonized tariffs and suppliers that are sustainable.”
Students were extremely engaged and fascinated by the complexities of running a niche shoe company. Allen was very receptive to students’ thoughts and feedback when it came to marketing and supply chain management. She enjoyed hearing the students’ innovative ideas, such as a subscription program where women could rotate the heels they’re wearing, and utilizing augmented reality software for customers to virtually try on products right from their home.
In her free time, Allen enjoys volunteering. She serves as the president of Lafayette Avenue School PTO and is currently a volunteer on the board of Chatham Education Foundation to fund priorities in the school district that foster student well-being, create innovative learning spaces and enhance student learning. Allen also gives back to her alma mater as a member of the Broad College’s advisory board.
More information on upcoming events in the 2022–23 Pung Speaker Series, as well as information on past events, is available at the Full-Time MBA program page.