The superactive American shoe designer will be able to concentrate more on the creative side of his flourishing business and on product management following the nomination of a managing director, Gregg Ribatt, to work directly under him on operations, finance, retail expansion and new business development. Ribatt was formerly chief operating officer of Bennett Footwear, a company that was recently sold by his father to Brown Shoe Company.

Using several head-hunters, Stuart Weitzmann, who is now 60 years old, had been looking for a second-in-command ever since he sold 40 percent of the shares in his company to Bear Stearns early last year, partly because his children are involved in other creative pursuits. One is a singer and the other one is a writer. Weitzmann’s shares changed hands at a value equal to eight times his company’s earnings before amortization and depreciation (EBITDA), which were higher than those of Gucci Group as a percentage of sales.

Weitzmann is now looking to add a retail director to help implement a plan to open about 50 more stores under his name around the world in the next five years – directly operated or in partnership with local retailers. The process is already in full swing and ahead of schedule. The company opened four stores in the USA and six in Italy over the last few months, in addition to some locations in Asia.

The wave of opening events included the inauguration of a prestigious store and showroom on Milan’s Via della Spiga during last month’s MICAM fair. It attracted 1,500 guests out of the 2,500 who had been invited for the event. Weitzmann was there with his famous dog, which has inspired his first line of handbags and small leathergoods.

The USA is home to 23 of the 35 Stuart Weitzmann stores now in place around the world, but most of the expansion is going to occur abroad in the future. Another four stores are in the pipeline for Weitzmann in Italy. France will be next in 2007 with the planned opening of a showroom in Paris and single-brand stores in various French cities. Meanwhile the company has signed contracts for a boutique in Singapore and two shop-in-shops in the Isetan department store in Tokyo and in Hankyk in Osaka. It has also signed a deal to open 25 stores in China over the next four years, starting with Beijing and Shanghai next Spring.

At the same time, the Stuart Weitzmann brand is being extended into new product categories. After the introduction of handbags, which will hit the retail circuit next January, children’s shoes are set to follow in the Fall of 2007, and men’s footwear at a later date. Jewelry and sunglasses may be next.

Weitzmann is currently selling about two million pairs annually, all manufactured at several factories in the Alicante area of Spain, to about 1,500 shoe shops around the world. Revenues grew by 15 percent last year to $175 million and are set to increase by about 20 percent this year. The business plan approved by Bear Sterns calls for a doubling in revenues over a period of 5-7 years, and women’s shoes will still represent at least 60 percent of the total business.