In less than a year as CEO of Levenger, the provider of artisanal home and office products, Margaret Moraskie has been practicing her own fine art: balance.
Among Moraskie’s tightrope acts these days are balancing post-pandemic openness with caution, external brand revitalization with the needs of Levenger’s internal culture, and her desire to establish more domestic manufacturing of Levenger’s goods against the strong legacy pull of sourcing abroad. While a rookie at the top, Moraskie already has demonstrated a grasp of the art of balance that other CEOs could learn from.
Moraskie was chief marketing officer for the Delray Beach, Florida-based company for a few years before assuming the top job amid Covid in November. After establishing the company in 1987 and growing it for decades around products such as portfolios, stationery, luxury pens, unique planners and leather briefcases, founders Steve and Lori Leveen left the helm for a while several years ago. When they refocused on Levenger, the Leveens elevated Moraskie in part because they recommitted the company to retailing and marketing tactile, traditional office products instead of reimagining it for the digital realm.
“There’s still a need for new [office] products even after we’ve become so technologically advanced,” Moraskie told Chief Executive. “Right now, people are paying big money for digital detox.”
And the Leveens wanted someone to run Levenger who had succeeded in the analog world. Before impressing them with their company, Moraskie had worked as senior vice president of consumer analytics and intelligence for Chico’s FAS, a womenswear outfit, and for 20 years at Boston Proper in merchandising, inventory and ultimately marketing.
“One reason they asked me to become CEO is because there’s more of a trend of marketers and merchants to take that role versus a super-tactical finance person,” Moraskie said. “It’s the first time someone with that background has had the role” at Levenger.
Moraskie has sought to revitalize a company that, she said, had become somewhat complacent and then was stunned by the pandemic. Levenger is having to close its two retail stores, but Moraskie has launched a number of new-product initiatives.
Meanwhile, she has focused on improving the internal culture in part by investing more in learning and development and by reimplementing a bonus structure.
“I went to our warehouse where no one had seen them in months because of Covid travel restrictions,” Moraskie said. “Now we’re involving everyone in the process of reaffirming the brand, and we’re sharing the wealth through our bonus plan. We’re also working on a new, three-year strategic plan and just setting a direction, with lots of conversations about what we’re here to do and what we’re not here to do.”
Supply-chain and manufacturing decisions have become a huge part of resetting Levenger. Most of its goods are made under contract as components in China, Hong, Taiwan, Germany and India, but much of Levenger’s assembly is done in the United States. One reason Moraskie is rethinking all of this is that, like many other companies in many other industries, supply-chain hangups have been dogging Levenger for months—and are expected to continue for months more.
“First we couldn’t get workers back, and at the beginning of this year, everything was delayed,” she said. “If we could get goods on a boat, we couldn’t get it in a train. We said, ‘Let’s assume this is business as usual through the end of 2022.’ So we’ve worked further ahead to cushion everything to make sure we’re OK this year for back-to-campus in the fall and for the winter holidays.”
At the same time, Moraskie is pushing for more domestic sourcing—for instance, by second-sourcing domestically to duplicate overseas arrangements. Cost spikes introduced by supply-chain disruptions also have become a factor. Levenger hasn’t been raising prices—yet.
“It’s a tough one because of higher costs,” she said. “But as we develop new goods, I’m looking for domestic pricing. We do a lot of assembly here, and I’m super-proud of the people we employ. Consumers want more American goods and more of a sustainability play. Every time, I ask, ‘Can we make it here?’ Even in Europe. But it’s costly.
“Consumers want the best—but they want it for a certain price. That’s a tough tightrope that we’re walking all the time.”