Industry / Retail / Watches

Shinola CEO Shannon Washburn Retires


After 10 years and leading the expansion of Shinola into a lifestyle brand, CEO Shannon Washburn (pictured) has retired from the Detroit-based company, she says, noting the brand’s unique growth and hopes for its future in hospitality and beyond.

Washburn joined Shinola in 2012, making her among the first 20 employees at the business that became known for its Motor City headquarters as well as its watches, fashion-forward advertising, and expansion into leather goods, partnerships with furniture giants such as Crate & Barrel, and its fine jewelry collections.

“When I heard about the opportunity to work at Shinola, I wasn’t working at the time, and I didn’t want a traditional job. But when I spoke to its founder [Tom Kartsotis] and heard about its vision, I knew this is much more than a job. This was something I wanted to be part of,” says Washburn, who became CEO in 2019.

Awenate Cobbina, CEO of Shinola’s parent company Bedrock Manufacturing, says Shinola is now seeking a new president for the brand.

“We’re actively looking for the right person with the qualities and experience we need,” Cobbina says. “We want someone who will help us grow with strong experience in the commercial parts of the business. This person will help us build for the next 10 years.”

Shinola Mackinac
One of the last watch launches Shannon Washburn supervised as Shinola CEO was for its Mackinac yacht watch, which features a 40 mm square stainless-steel case with an exhibition caseback window. A bright canary yellow dial pops with orange and red details and contrasts with the three-tone blue yacht timer ($3,500).

Washburn officially stepped down on July 22, but the transition has been in progress for months, she says. She is planning a move to Santa Fe, N.M., but she will remain a member of Bedrock Manufacturing’s board. Plus, she says she has met so many lifelong friends at Shinola that it will be difficult to step away fully.

For example, Shinola staff created a specialty watch named the Washburn for her upon her retirement, Cobbina says. The packaging included her photo as well as a tribute to her work at Shinola, where her commitment to the brand and her sense of humor were among her finest leadership qualities.

“It’s truly remarkable the work that she’s done here and how people feel about her,” Cobbina says.

Washburn says she is proud of her work at Shinola for the team the business has built under her direction. For example, nearly half of the brand’s open positions are being filled by internal candidates, so there is a great practice of promoting from within as well as mentorship. Over the past 10 years, Shinola went from 100 employees to about 450 today.

“The company’s in a really good place with a solid team and a solid foundation. There’s good strategy for the future. I feel I can walk away with great confidence and be proud of what the team is going to deliver,” Washburn says.

Washburn was also key to Shinola’s development as a lifestyle brand, boosting its brand awareness through collaborations, such as its new eyewear, and keeping its brick-and-mortar retail locations growing despite the pandemic. Shinola currently has 22 retail locations nationwide.

One of the new directions Shinola is likely to take moving into the future is the expansion of its Shinola hotel brand, Cobbina says. The Shinola Hotel opened in 2018 and has sparked many conversations about where else the brand could create such a luxury experience, he says.

Washburn also says she will miss her adopted hometown of Detroit, where Shinola has a flagship store along with a Crate & Barrel co-branded storefront for the furniture partnership.

“I love the energy of the city. It’s something I’m really going to miss,” Washburn says.

Top: Shannon Washburn has retired as CEO of Detroit-based Shinola, where she used her background in retail, fashion, and management to build the watch business into a lifestyle brand (photos courtesy of Shinola). 

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Karen Dybis

By: Karen Dybis

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