Former PVH President Allen Sirkin ’64 H’10 Shares Industry Advice at PhilaU

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Philadelphia University students packed the DEC Center Forum on Oct. 11 to hear Allen Sirkin ’64 H’10—PhilaU trustee, alumnus and recently retired president and chief operating officer of PVH Corp.—speak about his prominent career in the apparel industry and offer advice for PhilaU students preparing to launch their own careers.

“Fifty years ago today, I was you,” he told the audience, including many fashion merchandising and management and fashion design students. “I can remember the whole experience of being part of this campus. It was quite different back then, but it was my campus, it was my life.”

Sharing insights from the start of his career in 1964, Sirkin spoke of a world that included typewriters, rotary phones and comptometers instead of today’s high-tech tools of email, cell phones and calculators. “What took hours to do, now [working on] on computers could be done in 10 minutes or less,” Sirkin said of the technological advances impacting such things as, for instance, creating clothing patterns.

It was a world in which people worked for the same company for their entire careers, said Sirkin, who started at PVH as a merchandising assistant. Though he had received several promotions in three years, he wanted to move faster. “When I told [PVH] I was leaving they were shocked,” he said of his decision to take a job at Manhattan Industries.

Sirkin speaks with a PhilaU student after his formal presentation.

“How fast your career can go is up to you,” he told students. “It’s up to you, a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work.” He changed companies multiple times in the early years, a strategy that eventually paid off. “I was a company president at 32 in an era when presidents didn’t get named until they were in their 50s,” Sirkin said. After 18 years, Sirkin returned to PVH, this time as its president.

During his 30 years with PVH, Sirkin helped transform the company into an $8 billion global powerhouse and negotiated the purchase of two of PVH’s most iconic brands—Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. In 2012, PVH Corp. had $16.8 billion in worldwide global retail sales.

Sirkin Scholarship recipient Melanie Andreasen introduced Sirkin, saying the experience held extra meaning for her. The scholarship, she said, “really helped me out. I was able to go abroad last year because of it.” The senior fashion design student was interested to hear what Sirkin had to say about the business of fashion. “You have to know some of the business to design,” she said. “You have to know who you are designing for and who your market is.”

Sirkin, who was awarded PhilaU’s Leader of Innovation Medal in 2010, told students to take advantage of their PhilaU education. “As you enter the marketplace, you should never be shy about what you’ve learned here. This is a great building block for what’s to come.”

And once they enter the work place, he told students, “Take the job that nobody wants and make it your own.”

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