Wayne Weaver says he's a passionate NFL fan but admits he probably knows more about wing tips than wing formations. For 40 years, ever since he began selling shoes straight out of high school, footwear and not football has been his life. Oh, he knows the game, as you would hope of someone who has just landed the NFL's newest franchise. But don't be surprised, if upon hearing, say, quarterback pump, he asks what size.
Weaver, whose Jacksonville Jaguar partnership emerged last week as the surprise winner in the latest NFL sweepstakes (page 68), is the most recent of the NFL's new breed of ownership, men whose careers suggest ambition and an ability to grow a business. Apparently the league is no longer partial to football hobbyists but instead hopes to entrust the game to wildcatters, restaurateurs and now...a shoe salesman.
Actually, it has been several fashion seasons since the 58-year-old Weaver tried a pair of high heels on anyone. He advanced quickly from the floor of a department store in his hometown of Columbus, Ga. Within a year he was managing the store's shoe department for Brown Group Inc., a St. Louis-based shoe company. Within two he had been transferred by Brown to a larger store in Norfolk, Va. "Shoes? Not a career choice," says Weaver. "But when I got out of school, I needed a job. I was good at art and might have dreamed of becoming an architect. But real life sets in, takes you in a lot of different directions."
It mostly took Weaver straight up. By age 25 he was in St. Louis, eventually running the women's branch of Brown's retail division. His ascent up the corporate ladder, however, had stalled by the time he reached his 40's. He was a senior officer but, looking ahead, saw others in front of him in line for the presidency. "So I made a career decision," he says. Had he been thinking in football terms, he might have said, "I ran out of the pocket." Because he left Brown's without a job. He decided to join a start-up shoe group, which began Nine West Group Inc., a Connecticut-based outfit that marketed high-fashion women's shoes made in Brazil. Over 15 years, until his resignation last February, Weaver helped Nine West grow to a nationwide chain of 180 stores, driving annual sales from $9 million to $461 million in 1992. When he left he was making $2.5 million a year. He took with him a 22% interest in the company, worth $125 million at the time. Weaver also has a majority interest in Shoe Carnival, whose sales he helped drive from $12 million to $160 million. No wonder he calls shoes "an exciting industry."
The pursuit of an NFL franchise was similarly accidental. Like selling shoes, owning a football team was nothing he had ever dreamed of. But his brother Ron, an early member of the ownership group and a full-time Jacksonville resident (Wayne has homes in Darien, Conn., and on Amelia Island, near Jacksonville), drew him in. Soon Wayne, now the franchise's principal owner, was involved in another start-up. Beyond the glamour of NFL ownership, which he admits has appeal, there is the attraction of "building a business from scratch." Certainly the league was persuaded by his ability to organize a business from its infancy. After all, who better than a shoe salesman to outfit something from the ground up?
BEN VAN HOOK
The principal owner of the NFL's expansion team in Jacksonville is a well-heeled former shoe salesman.