Strategy

My first day: Claire’s CFO

Claire’s CFO Chris Cramer on the crucial task any retail finance chief should consider before a new job.
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Claire's

· 4 min read

This is part of our occasional series on CFOs’ first day on their current job.

It’s an activity most of us dread in adult life: walking past a cluster of tweens at the mall.

They see you; you see them. On their cherubic, unlined faces, a public reminder of your pending mortality. On your face, a look of sheer terror. Few of us get by unscathed.

But if you’re Chris Cramer, the new CFO and COO of teen accessories retailer and mall staple Claire’s, you might just have to brave the brutal, hormonal hordes before you can accept a new job offer. And in his (luckily not-at-all-harrowing) experience lies a crucial lesson for other retail CFOs.

Cramer took over the post in November 2023, and the uniqueness of the position—a joint CFO and COO appointment—was a large motivator for pursuing the role.

“Having been a COO and having been a CFO before, I thought the opportunity to bring that experience to bear in one role was something that my background suited me for,” Cramer told CFO Brew.

Following his MBA, he moved into corporate finance-related work at IBM. And after that, for the last 20-ish years, he’s worked in specialty retail, including stints as CFO (and then COO) of Bath & Body Works and president of Parade.

Cramer’s varied career before Claire’s positioned him for his blended post, particularly in more recent decades as he held “about an even mix of what I would call purely financial roles and then roles that were either straight operational, or a blend of finance and operational roles.”

But it wasn’t just past experience synchronicity that drove him to the role. It was also the sight of overexcited tweens and their devoted parents, buzzing around malls.

Before, in a store. Cramer’s prep for his first day at Claire’s started long before he stepped into the role. “One of the things that I ended up finding most attractive, which ultimately helped lead to that first day, was, for me, brand matters a lot, especially in a specialty retail situation like this,” Cramer said. “Does the company have an emotional connection with customers?”

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There’s an easy way to answer that question: Go to lots and lots of stores. And that’s what he did.

What he saw sealed the deal: There was “tremendous consistency” across stores, he said. You’d see “excitement, families—moms and daughters—shopping together. [You’d see] younger kids, running around the store with excitement from one display to another,” Cramer continued.

“For me, that was actually a big part of learning about Claire’s and deciding it was the kind of place I wanted to have the first day [at], because to me that felt like a brand with that emotional and customer connection that I would want,” he explained. “Frankly, that’s at the base of good specialty retailers.”

The norm, not the exception. That sense of shared enthusiasm carried Cramer into his actual first day on the job. “It’s always a whirlwind,” Cramer said of starting a new CFO role. “There’s so many different things you could look at. I start with people.”

At Claire’s, he ran an internal checklist: Who will I interact with the most? Who do I need to meet to form cross-functional partnerships?

“I spent time with the CEO of Claire’s on my first day. I spent time with people that are direct reports of mine,” he said. “To me, it always starts with people and relationships.”

And it was that Day One communication between teams that also helped him settle into the collaborative nature of the joint COO/CFO role, he explained—a position he thinks a growing number of companies will consider in the future.

“I think what we’re doing here at Claire’s—the CFO and COO role blend—will be more the norm rather than the exception,” Cramer said.

“Those operating decisions that a COO is involved in all have a financial underpinning. Being able to connect those operating decisions back efficiently and seamlessly…actually creates real synergy for the business,” he continued. “I think it allows the business to get to better decisions over time.”

News built for finance pros

CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.