Susan Whalen Takes the HighLine at Pollack/Weitzner

The Decorative fabric business has been pretty much of an old boys network in the past…not the interior design part, which has always been evenly represented by all sexes…and not the international mills, which are usually family affairs run by sons and daughters, but certainly the American mills and wholesalers have skewed heavily male.  So Hats off to Susan Whalen, newly-appointed CEO of Pollack/Weitzner, one of the most highly-regarded upscale US wholesalers since its founding by the eponymous Mark Pollack in 1988.  Whalen’s leap from President to CEO represents a major crack in the textile industry’s glass ceiling.


“I think it’s true that there aren’t that many female CEO’s. However there have been many brands that have emerged in the last decade or so that are women-owned and operated,” attests Susan Whalen. “Executive and C-suite leadership roles in this industry, such as Creative Director or CMO, are largely {filled} by women. That is the case in our company as well.”

Whalen’s domain is substantial: 60 employees based in New York plus over 100 suppliers around the globe, all executing Pollack/Weitzner’s mandate to create luxe fabrics for interior designers and architects, the hospitality and contract industry and ultimately the consumer; offering diversity in these categories at a range of price points, a strategy that’s paid off.

Weaving A Career

Her trajectory began in 1999 when Susan Whalen answered a newspaper ad for administrator in the design studio working for founder and co-owner Mark Pollack—an industry icon much like Pierre Cardin in fashion.  This opportunity offered her “an incredible teacher.”  Says Whalen, “Mark is a genius but he has been out for 10 years now and Rachel Doriss [current head of design and also trained by Pollack] has her own POV, but there’s a ‘Pollackness’ about the collection,” although she asserts, “it’s not a one-person shop.”

She says she had no desire to be a designer and thought about getting an MBA,. but she jumped at the chance to work at Pollack because she loved the company.  It was a “fortunate happenstance.”

“An important aspect of building a career is to ‘become an expert’…Learn everything you can about the company you work for, the products you create, the industry and the clients you serve,” asserts Whalen.

Whalen (Left) with colleagues at a product launch

Whalen is acknowledged as financial talent in an industry where creativity is the driving force. That creates its own challenges.  She strives by “Try this, try that. Change and evolve.”  She meets each week with the executive team for a roundtable that takes in heads of design, marketing, sales and operations. Everyone comes with items to discuss, from minutiae to big strategic ideas.

More Through a Merger

Since Pollack merged with the wallcovering company, Weitzner, to form Pollack/ Weitzner in 2011, the team meets one week with Pollack’s creative head Rachel Doriss, the next week with wallcovering design guru, Lori Weitzner.

And how is that merger working? Susan (and the industry itself) believes it has been very positive for the company overall. Now Pollack/Weitzner has launched a new fabric line through Weitzner that is “aesthetically different from the Pollack collection.” The merged company intentionally keeps separate studios for design development.

Post-Pandemic Insights

And what about the current industry slowdown after the pandemic gold rush to cocoon and furnish? Whalen’s undeterred. The company is split 50/50 between residential and commercial, which has helped it weather major market swings, and  according to Whalen, most companies aren’t structured like that.  “From a strategic planning point of view that mix will not change, but more colorful prints, which have not been “Pollack,” will launch in the fall to a residential market they currently don’t reach. Says Susan: “Stay tuned!”

She acknowledges that there is more competition now than even five years ago and plans to reach out to a new generation of design pros. Whalen wants to reach customers in new ways. It’s a multi-pronged approach. “You can’t have just one market campaign,” she feels. “Our biggest challenges are growth and brand awareness. While our business has now surpassed pre-Covid revenue, I am focused on organic growth through new product divisions, along with targeted marketing and social media initiatives.” Won’t that require big funding? Whalen replies that none of it is inexpensive. “You have to sharpen your pencil.”

A Culture of Collaboration and Friendship Prevails

Whalen shows fabric swatches

Although Whalen admits she was not knowledgeable about the textile industry when originally hired, “I didn’t know anything about fiber or construction, let alone performance or end use,” she was a focused and motivated student…who soaked up everything she could.  She acknowledges that although she lacked financial background, she was trained by co-owner Rick Sullivan. She developed solid operations knowhow–understanding the warehouse, IT, and more. She never had a CFO role and that presented a challenge, as most CEOs in the industry come from the numbers side. But Susan asserts it has worked out through a collaborative process.

She believes the company prospers because of its corporate culture and people who make up Pollack. “In our organization we are all friends as well as colleagues.” In that supportive environment, “Women, along with the men, lift each other up.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top