Select Comfort CEO, an alumna, to lead Cabot Executive event Oct. 29

By University Communications
October 28, 2015
Shelly Ibach

Photo: Shelly Ibach

With more than 30 years of experience at major retail companies, Shelly Ibach knows about business and leadership. In roles such as regional director of stores, general merchandise manager, and product and brand developer, she has risen from management trainee to corporate executive.

In 2012, Ibach began drawing on that wealth of experience when she was named president and chief executive officer of Select Comfort, the Minneapolis-based company known for its Sleep Number bed, SleepIQ technology and bedding products.

She will discuss the importance of consumer-led innovation Thursday, Oct. 29, at her alma mater, University of Wisconsin-Stout. She is the featured guest for the annual Cabot Executive in Residence program sponsored by the College of Management.

Ibach’s keynote address, open to the public, will be from 9:30 to 10:15 a.m. Thursday in the ballrooms of the Memorial Student Center, followed by a Q&A session.

As part of the daylong Cabot program, Ibach will meet with students, faculty and staff around campus.
Ibach will make a special stop at The Niche, a student-run store in Heritage Hall. The Niche marked the start of her career in management — she was an assistant manager.

Ibach graduated in 1981 with a degree in fashion merchandising. “The Niche provided me an opportunity for hands-on experience in each of the various roles in retail,” said Ibach, who also worked part time in college at Anshus Jewelers in Menomonie and at a jewelry store in high school in her hometown of Albert Lea, Minn.
After interviewing on campus for a management trainee position at Dayton’s in Minneapolis, she worked 25 years for the Department Stores as part of Target Corp. and later for Macy’s.

In 2007, she joined Select Comfort as senior vice president of sales and merchandising. After becoming chief operating office in 2011, she was named president and CEO in 2012. Select Comfort has 475 stores nationwide and had net sales of $1.16 billion in fiscal 2014.

Ibach said her myriad experiences in retail, going back to her education at UW-Stout, helped her develop the skills and knowledge needed to lead Select Comfort, which has more than 3,200 employees.
“UW Stout offered a great balance of academic and practical experience, which prepared me well for leading a consumer company like Sleep Number,” she said.

Over the past five years Ibach has led Sleep Number through a transformation from a direct marketer focused on selling mattresses to customers with back pain to an innovation company for people who care about their sleep. She is passionate about the company’s mission to improve lives through individualizing sleep experiences.
“I am driven by providing unparalleled employee and customer experiences, products that add value and delivering financial results. Retail is a business of human behavior, a combination of rational and emotional, and analytics and judgment. These perspectives are necessary to be relevant and build value for consumers,” she said.

The fashion merchandising program, Ibach’s major, at UW-Stout has since become the retail merchandising and management undergraduate program,, and many graduates like Ibach still go on to work for national retail chains in various capacities.

Ibach was chosen to give the student commencement speech in 1981. She spoke on the topic of courage.
“Courage is still my personal defining characteristic, combined with compassion and commitment. These attributes keep me present, balanced, decisive, supportive and innovative. As a CEO, you are constantly facing the next big challenge — there is always a solution, but you often need courage to effectively take action,” she said.

Ibach lives a short drive west of UW-Stout, where she and her husband, George, have a vineyard and love to fish, hunt and go hot air ballooning.

Cabot Executive in Residence program

This is the 31st year of the Cabot Executive in Residence program, which is named in honor of Arthur R. Cabot, a successful pet products manufacturer. His son, Scott Cabot, is a UW-Stout alumnus.

“Shelly exemplifies the Cabot Executive in Residence program. She is a leader with high ethical standards and an excellent track record as a successful business executive. Cabot executives serve as an inspiration to all College of Management students,” said Abel Adekola, dean of the College of Management.

“We are thrilled to have Shelly return to UW-Stout and look forward to hearing her message, gaining insight from her experiences and her interaction with students, faculty and staff,” Adekola added.