Supporting business growth” is a great bullet point on any résumé. “Leading the growth of a brand from a zero-dollar to a billion-dollar enterprise and helping to make it the No. 1 loungewear brand in the world” makes the résumé of Richard A. Dent III elite.
Dent, who turned 41 earlier this year, is the man behind the exponential growth of Victoria’s Secret PINK, a lifestyle line for late teens and college-age women that launched in 2004 in Columbus, Ohio. Dent is its senior vice-president, chief operating officer and co-leader, a triple title he has held since 2007. Under his leadership, along with that of freshly appointed CEO Denise Landman, Victoria’s Secret PINK has become the fastest-growing retail business in the history of parent company Limited Brands Inc.
“Victoria’s Secret finally recognized that if it already has captured the loyalty of the teen market, then it needed to figure out how to maintain that loyalty once this demographic had moved out of home to college. PINK is the right idea,” CNN/Money.com quoted Marshal Cohen, an analyst with the market research firm NPD Group Inc., as saying when PINK debuted.
A native of West Philadelphia, Dent began his career at Ford Motor Co. after earning both his undergraduate and Master of Business Administration degrees from Florida A&M University’s School of Business and Industry. He held seven positions in five years at Ford, the last as finance manager for the F-Series/Expedition/ Navigator Platform, Light Truck Vehicle Center, at the time the No. 1-selling vehicle program in North America for any manufacturer — foreign or domestic. During this period of his career he learned the importance of creating his own story and not settling for a path dictated by others. “I knew that I could do more and that just pressed me to not read their story, but create my own,” he says.
Frustrated that his career was not advancing as quickly as he wanted it to at Ford, Dent moved on to become the U.S. controller for sales and marketing at Volvo Trucks North America. At age 27, he was the youngest controller at Volvo worldwide. Had he remained at Ford, he likely would have landed the same position by age 40.
He continued his corporate climb, aided by a deep understanding of the subject matter of his positions, by his relentless drive to always be expert at his job functions and, he notes with pride, by his partly innate, partly learned ability to navigate the corporate terrain. Advancing takes more than intelligence and hard work; many other factors often come into play in the business world, he asserts. For this reason, he points with gratitude to his ability to think using both sides of the brain — drawing in equal measure from the creativity, intuition and visualization of the right and the logic, focus and pragmatism of the left. The son of a pastor, with a strong foundation in the church, Dent acknowledges, too, the hand of God in his success. “Always remember whose you are. Understand that everything that you have comes from Him and not from them,” he says. “This is the key to staying grounded and not losing your focus.”
Dent eventually moved away from the auto industry and into retail at Limited Brands, the $10 billion parent company of brands that include Bath & Body Works in addition to Victoria’s Secret. The change would enhance his career as much as it would his corporate credentials, he believed. “I have always been pretty cognizant of developing a range of different skill sets,” he explains. “I always felt that having a diversified portfolio of skills would give me an advantage over someone who was really deep, but narrow.” It was a prescient move. The depth of experience he had acquired in manufacturing from years in the auto industry helped him to move quickly through the ranks of Limited Brands and play instrumental roles in the company’s growth.
When the decision was made to develop an executive team for PINK, Dent got on board in 2005 as chief financial officer. It was another strategic move that gave him an opportunity to further diversify his skills. “I knew that in two years [after becoming CFO] I would have a range of experience that another position in the organization would not offer,” he says. That contention was borne out almost immediately. Since Victoria’s Secret PINK was new, with only a small staff, Dent had to wear not only his financial hat but also real estate and marketing hats. He was even instrumental in developing the in-store experience for the brand’s target audience of 18- to 22-year-olds. By assuming all of those roles, he was able to learn how the organization works as a whole, dramatically increasing his value and catapulting him into his current role just two years after signing on with PINK.
Today, he oversees business strategy, finance, inventory/merchandise planning, inventory deployment, demand forecasting, human resources, business operations planning, PINK freestanding store concept, all corporate staff interfaces (e.g. real estate, store operations), a $35 million annual SG&A (sales, general and administrative) spend, and a $30 million marketing, digital, public relations and visual budget. “PINK is the most aspirational, fully articulated, lifestyle, collegiate clothing brand in America. It is the premier all-American brand that welcomes girls of all races and ethnicities,” Dent says. “My job, simply put, is to bring great creative vision to life in our stores and online in the most efficient and profitable ways possible.”
“Great creative vision” helped in establishing PINK’s licensed apparel line featuring co-branded products of 60 top universities, as well as teams for the National Football League and Major League Baseball. Dent was responsible for negotiating separate multiyear exclusivity deals with the NFL, MLB and Collegiate Licensing Company, and was instrumental in extending this strategy to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, providing them their largest retail apparel distribution deals ever. Revenue from the line supports scholarships on HBCU campuses.
Dent speaks excitedly about prospects for the continued growth of Victoria’s Secret PINK. The brand has leveraged the power of the digital space and social media to successfully engage girls, with more than 8,000,000 users already saying they “like” its Facebook presence. Its PINK Nation, an online destination where members can obtain free goodies and the inside scoop on all things fabulous and, of course, PINK, has nearly 2 million members.
Dent’s life beyond PINK is just as fulfilling. Since 2007, he has served as chairman of the board and a group mentor volunteer for Expanding Visions Foundation, a local nonprofit catering to inner-city male youth between the ages of 12 and 18. Not having had a good mentor in his own life, but understanding the importance of having one, he is passionate about helping young men to pursue and succeed in higher education and to be meaningful contributors to society. The foundation provides one-on-one and group mentoring, a career institute, college tours and other services and programs for the young men and their families. His work there reinforces his belief that education is critical and that both parents must raise their children.
Dent is also chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee for Florida A&M’s Board of Trustees, a member of the Executive Leadership Council and a lifetime member of the National Black MBA Association and of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. “I strive to be significant, not just successful, for success without significance is meaningless. I am certain that when I get to heaven God will not care about how many panties, bras and hoodies I have sold — let the record state that I will have sold a lot. He will only care what I did along the way to help others,” he says.