News & Stories
June 24, 2022

The many sides of Sumner

Story by Karilon L. Rogers


Corporate portraits by Brant Sanderlin
 

 

“Since 1947, we’ve drawn inspiration from those who live by their own rules
and do things their own way, crafting dependable denim for riders,
rock stars and trailblazers.”

Wrangler® Jeans’ 75th anniversary   

Kontoor Brands, Inc. website

 

Denise Sumner (89C) definitely fits her brand. Whether looking out over the frenzied floor of the New York Stock Exchange with colleagues as they prepare for the ringing of its iconic bell or riding on a dogsled through the frozen tundra of Alaska, the vice president, chief accounting officer of Kontoor Brands is, indeed, living by her own rules and doing things her own way. [Except for accounting, of course; she does that strictly by the book!]

One week, Sumner will be running the accounting operations of a global company with products in more than 70 countries and, the next, peering back at sharks around human-sized clam shells while scuba diving at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. And you just might find her in Georgia visiting her Berry alumni parents and serving her alma mater. She seems to be so many things at once.

The businesswoman

As a child, Sumner had one goal: to grow up to wear a suit and carry a briefcase. Mission accomplished.

Upon arrival at Berry, she thought studying business would be the best route to reaching her goal and that accounting would be the best way to learn about the business world. Again, mission accomplished. But rather than start then, let’s start now with her work at Kontoor Brands.

The world-famous denim brands of Wrangler® and Lee® lead the portfolio of the global lifestyle apparel company with $2.5 billion in annual revenue that today is Kontoor, a 2019 spinoff of the massive VF Corp.

Once vice president, financial controller with VF, Sumner’s decision to move to Kontoor Brands enabled her to step up to the role of chief accounting officer, an important rise in position that offered opportunities she found simply irresistible.

“I had the chance to build a business with a really great boss and team, as well as put my skills to use,” she enthused.

The work has been heavy, but oh-so satisfying.

“It was a very rapid spinoff, so work has been fast and furious,” Sumner explained about her operations, which include multiple offices in Europe, Asia and North America in addition to corporate headquarters in Greensboro, N.C., where she is located.

“We built our teams around the globe from scratch,” she said with pride, “both with people coming over from VF and new hires.”

Her duties run deep, the complexities of which are likely understood only by those in her field. She is responsible for all consolidated financial reporting, including financial management reporting and filings and correspondence with the Securities and Exchange Commission. She implements and oversees global accounting policy and acts as a primary interface with outside auditors of Kontoor’s financial statements, among many other responsibilities.

“The most challenging project has been the implementation of our global enterprise resources planning system,” she said. “We started the spinoff with different platforms in each of our three regions; since then, we have taken literally everything we do off these systems and put it on a single global platform. To do that, you must rethink how you do everything. It is the underlying software system for all major aspects of the company’s operations, including the areas of accounting, procurement, customer order management, manufacturing and distribution.”

As it turns out, she actually loves what came with the suit and briefcase, as well as the great benefits of working with VF and Kontoor, in particular.

“I love that I work in a global organization, having colleagues around the world,” Sumner declared. “Diversity gives so much insight and actually reflects our business. In my career, I have been to operating facilities in places like China, Nicaragua, Argentina, Chile and Belgium, which has given me the opportunity to participate in local traditions with people from work. The most exciting part is that my colleagues are not just colleagues; they become part of my view of the world.”

All that aside, however, the most exciting moment of her career to date came down to one small segment of time right here in the U.S.A.

“One of the coolest things I have ever done was stand above the floor of the stock exchange with our executive team for the ceremonial ringing of the bell when we took Kontoor Brands public,” she recalled. “It was so exciting, especially for a person in finance!”

 

I love that I work in a global organization, having colleagues around the world. Diversity gives so much insight and actually reflects our business.

Sumner wasn’t always with a global manufacturer, but she went big right out of Berry, hired immediately by one of the “Big 4” public accounting firms, KPMG, for their Atlanta office. She made it to partner in 15 years, three of which were spent at KPMG’s national office in New York City as part of an elite professional development program.

She likes to say her career has been split into two halves.

“First, I audited companies,” she laughed. “Now I help run companies that get audited. I know both sides.”           

The adventurer and more

If you were sticking pushpins into a world map, you’d need at least 60 to mark all the countries Sumner has visited. Add U.S. states to the mix, and it would take 49 more. The busy businesswoman who has traveled the high road to the top of her field has hit the highways, byways and airways to scads of non-business destinations as well.

The only U.S. state she has not visited is North Dakota. Maybe it’s because the Peace Garden State doesn’t have a beach anywhere nearby; Sumner really loves the beach. Still, she remains open to the possibility.

“I would love to go there and hope that someone will invite me,” she smiled.

While her trips abroad are too numerous to mention, a recent hands-down favorite was the Galapagos Islands. Revered as a wildlife sanctuary, this volcanic archipelago in the Pacific approximately 620 miles off the coast of Ecuador is home to many plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. Enter the amateur photographer.

 

After flying into Quito, Ecuador, she had the opportunity to walk on the equator before taking a special cruise ship through waters around the islands. From the ship, they boarded Zodiac rubber boats bound for either beach landings on the islands or nearby water landings that required them to wade in.

“I love wildlife, nature, animals and birds,” Sumner enthused, “and they are constantly with you there. They are not afraid because they have no predators. I have a passion for photography, so I was thrilled with the ability to take shots of them so close.”

Also high on her travel list was a tour of France with pastry chef, author and blogger David Lebovitz, whose work she admires immensely. Enter the cook.

“He did tours of France with 10 people at a time,” Sumner said. “I managed to get a spot on his last tour. The opportunity to travel, eat and drink with him in Paris and Bordeaux and to see those places through the eyes of the people who live there was wonderful.”

She also has traversed a bit of Alaska in a dogsled; went dune-bashing in Dubai at sunset (“exhilarating and terrifying!”); drank a daiquiri (a Hemingway, of course) at the Tropicana Club in Havana, Cuba, while feeling the spirit of Frank Sinatra all around; and hiked the lava fields of Reykjavik, Iceland – to name just a few adventures.

Oh, and she finished a half-marathon at Kiawah Island, S.C. even though she isn’t a runner and has spent an inordinate amount of time in Italy, where she just can’t get enough of “la dolce vita” – the sweet life. This Thanksgiving, she plans to shake things up further and finish off the continents with a cruise to someplace a little starker and less well known for the “finer things in life” than her beloved Italia: Antarctica!

The Berry girl

Sumner’s parents, Robert “Lem” Sumner (63C) and Gayle Miller Sumner (64C), brought her to many a Mountain Day when she was young, and she feels she “grew up at Berry.” They still live in Georgia, and she enjoys spending time with them, including several months during the COVID-19 crisis.

Sumner serves Berry through membership on the Board of Visitors and has endowed two scholarships, one for a finance student and one for an entrepreneurial venture, honoring the impact Berry had on her career
and life.

“I can remember being so impressed that somebody who didn’t know me was helping me with my college tuition,” she said.

Looking back, Sumner also recognizes that sometimes things that don’t seem important at the time turn out to be among the most important things of all.

Like unplanned skills: “I worked for four years in the social science department as Professor Robert Geisel’s secretary. I learned to type really fast, which turned out to be a huge asset when I first began to work at KPMG and computers were introduced. I could work on them faster than most.”

Or broadened vision: “My parents told me they would sponsor me to take a study abroad, and Dr. Iain Crawford, an English professor, led a trip to London that changed my life.”

Or choosing Berry College: “I think about that a lot. I made the right decision to be there and figure out what I wanted to do. When I was a junior, one of my accounting professors, David Akins [75C, 80G], suggested I point my job search toward the Big 4 accounting firms. You’d think that with Berry being a smaller school, students wouldn’t have the same access to jobs in these firms as students from large universities. But a Berry grad working at KPMG, Karen Christensen Fenaroli [83C, 83G], actually recruited me. And then I was assigned to my first boss, Robin Henry Muretisch [86C]. She was a Berry graduate, too, and couldn’t have been a better first person to work for!”

The human being

A business executive, world traveler, wild adventurer and budding photographer. A team builder, gourmet cook, cultural explorer and animal lover. A devoted daughter, accounting guru, beach enjoyer and Berry supporter. How exactly can we describe Denise Sumner? How about one interesting, caring, well-rounded human being?

She once said about her alma mater: “I like the fact that Berry doesn’t teach you limits but encourages you instead to pursue your passion.”

Sumner seems to know no limits. And she does, indeed, follow her many passions – just as Kontoor’s Wrangler® brand suggests – her own way.

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