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Manny and Joanne Chirico on Corporate Responsibility and Helping Your College-Age Children Just Enough

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At the start of his senior year at Fordham, in a talk by his theology professor, Emanuel “Manny” Chirico heard something that grabbed his attention—a Jesuit maxim about fervently embracing one’s calling and changing the world. He opened up a fresh notebook, so new that its binding still cracked, and wrote the words on the first page: “Go forth and set the world on fire.”

It has stuck with him ever since. “He basically said the world is out there, you have to find your purpose.”

It’s safe to say he found it. Today he is chairman and CEO of PVH Corp., the world’s second-largest apparel company and parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. Manny, GABELLI ’79, has won numerous accolades for proving that profitability and corporate social responsibility are compatible. For example, PVH recently placed at No. 16 out of 300 firms in the recent Newsweek ranking, “America’s Most Responsible Companies 2020.”

This month, the company announced a partnership with the Gabelli School of Business to help develop its sustainability curriculum, and is contributing $1 million to the effort. On January 28, at its Calvin Klein offices, PVH will host the kickoff event for the Gabelli School’s yearlong centennial celebration.

Manny and his wife, Joanne, support a variety of health- and education-related organizations, including investing in Fordham, particularly in the area of career services and experiential education. Their consonance with the mission of Fordham will be highlighted on March 30 at the Fordham Founder’s Dinner, where they will be among the recipients of the Founder’s Award.

The Chiricos have long been involved with the University; two of their three grown sons are Fordham alumni, and Manny has served on the Board of Trustees. They recently spoke with FORDHAM magazine about some of the balancing acts in their lives—between profit and purpose, and between helping your college-age children versus letting them learn hard lessons on their own.

How has your Fordham education influenced your leadership of PVH?
Manny: I’ve always admired the Jesuits for putting forward the Catholic social justice traditions and engaging with societal issues, and I’ve tried to bring that perspective into my decision-making. I’ve been with PVH for more than 25 years, and we’ve always had a purpose as a company that went beyond just driving profitability each quarter. I think it’s important that you have that corporate purpose and that you balance all your stakeholders when you’re making business decisions. Our corporate purpose, “we power brands that drive fashion forward for good,” sums up how we manage our business.

How does that work in practice?
Manny: Our company has a number of stakeholders—our shareholders, associates, suppliers, customers, and the communities where we operate. All of these groups are impacted by our business decisions, and the most difficult decisions are the ones that negatively impact people’s lives. For example, if a decision is made to close one of our factories and outsource the production in order to save $10 million per year, two stakeholder groups are going to be directly impacted: our shareholders positively and our factory employees negatively. Our shareholders will enjoy the financial benefits of the cost savings while our factory employees will lose their jobs. I think the only way to make these types of decisions is to always consider what is best for both the long-term health of the company and its stakeholders. The company must be financially strong and competitively positioned for the future so it can continue to invest in its business and its talent. For the negatively impacted employees, the company has as obligation to provide a reasonable transition through a generous severance and benefit package as well as future job training. It’s the right thing to do—for the employees but also for the company. Your company’s reputation in the market sits with customers, shareholders, and your future, current, and former associates.

Financial results are critical, but there needs to be a shift in focus from short-term quarterly results to long-term financial performance. By focusing on creating shareholder value over the long term, you bring all stakeholders’ interests into greater alignment.

As parents of three successful college graduates, what would you say to today’s students and parents? Fordham experts have warned of the increasing anxiety and perfectionism hampering today’s students. Any advice?
Manny: I would say there’s too much pressure put on grades and too much “your resume has to be perfect.” Those things are not unimportant, but as a parent, you want to try to bring some perspective to all of that. You don’t need to have five jobs, or be in 15 clubs. Bring some balance to it. And let them make mistakes, within boundaries. You have to experience failure. Everything is not going to be smooth all the time, and as a parent, I think you’ve got to get that point across. That’s the nature of life and business. I always say, “fail fast and move on.” At PVH, when we’re looking for talented people, we’re looking for people who can adapt, get things done, and deal with adversity and constant disruption. The only way you build resiliency is by struggling.

Joanne: As parents, you can’t fix everything. If one of our kids came home saying something negative about a professor, Manny would say, “Well, one of your bosses is going to be the same way.” I think college is a maturing process. You’re going to take classes you love, you’re going to take classes you hate, and maybe you’re going to find out in your third year that you’re in the wrong major and have to switch and make up a couple of classes. Sometimes your major isn’t even what you end up doing. And you need those different experiences.

Our kids always worked—not during the school year, but they had to work during summer. They weren’t going to sleep until noon, they had to get up with alarm clocks. They commuted to the city, they worked in mail rooms, they worked in different areas so they get a feel of what they wanted. Our youngest son worked at our church—answering the phones, painting the school bathrooms, and one day he came home covered with dirt because he had to help dig a grave. I thought it was a great experience for him because he knew he didn’t want to be doing manual labor in 90-degree heat in the middle of the summer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but he knew that wasn’t for him.

Manny: We pushed very hard for our boys to be involved at Fordham, because clubs and activities balance out what you’re learning in the classroom. And they all played sports, which really teaches you how to work as a group, one of the most important things you have to do in a business. We always found their grades were better during seasons when they had less free time, because they had to manage the demands better.

How should students approach internships? Is it all about skills and hands-on experience?
Manny: It depends what you want. If you want to be in public accounting and you get the opportunity at an internship with one of the big accounting firms, you should take that experience because it’s going to lead to where you want to go. With the internships, it’s about the job you’re doing, but it’s also the experience you’re getting. And as much as possible, try to reach out and get exposed in that environment to as many people as you can. Talking to them about their experiences is as valuable as the actual job experience. It opens up a sphere and you get to see things through other people’s eyes. I think that’s one of the real benefits of internships.

Why did you feel it was important to invest in career services and experiential education at Fordham?
Joanne: Our kids’ advantage was that they had Manny at home. So, they had someone that was pushing them in the right direction, pushing them with mock interviews and things like that. Not everybody has that. Some kids are coming out of families that are not in the professional world. They don’t have that guidance, and that’s why it’s so important for the schools to help.

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