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The River Overflows with New Perspectives


Barry Lipsett needed a fresh look at his company. He found it in Chair Michele Breslin with the help of Vistage Networks.

Businesses often run like rivers — steady yet forever changing. And much like its namesake, Charles River Apparel has skillfully used the “guiding banks” of its mission, values, and purpose to meet changing customer demands and evolving business environments.

Second-generation CEO Barry Lipsett credits the company’s decades-long success to those guiding banks established by his father, Walter, who started the Medford, Massachusetts-based company in 1983.

Early on, the elder Lipsett focused on building relationships to grow the line from an innovative yellow rain slicker inspired by the New England weather to include outerwear, activewear, corporate attire and other apparel.

Lipsett took it a step further by leveraging the power of mentors and advisors to hold him accountable as CEO and give him the confidence to move forward on initiatives. In addition to bringing in four other advisors when he took over the business in 1993, Lipsett joined Vistage, where he continues to lean into his group for insights and perspectives. Even the elder Lipsett, at 95, continues to serve as a sounding board.

When he posted asking for help to re-energize his board of advisors, it was the perfect opportunity.

Barry Lipsett

During the worst of the COVID-19 slowdown, Lipsett and his advisors focused on identifying ways to cut costs. While they successfully pinpointed some cost-cutting measures, it was during that process that Barry realized his advisors had lost touch with the marketplace along with technological advances in the industry. New perspectives could help the company adapt to shifting customer preferences and evolve its technology to improve efficiencies.

“I had four board members but did not have an official contract. I thought it was time to create a more official structure and to bring some new blood,” he says.

After struggling to find candidates through informal connections, Lipsett turned to Vistage Networks, posting a call for “new board members with executive-level experience and preferably with a marketing background.” Soon, responses flooded his inbox.

“We got over 10 responses, and I was really surprised. I interviewed some people and passed those on to my son and my wife, and we narrowed it down to Michele [Breslin],” he says.

Breslin, a Vistage Chair based in West Harrison, New York, knew the company well — her three daughters had closets filled with Charles River Apparel products from their time at sleepaway camps.

Michele Breslin

But she had more than a personal connection to the brand — she had C-level experience in product development at Macy’s, Ralph Lauren and Echo Design Group.

“When he posted asking for help to re-energize his board of advisors, it was the perfect opportunity,” Breslin says, recalling Lipsett’s post in the Vistage Family Business Network.

As they spoke during the interview process, Lipsett’s vision captured Breslin’s attention and desire to serve. Breslin attended her first board meeting in Spring 2022 and is eager to leverage her expertise and expansive network to find innovations to keep Charles River Apparel ever-flowing with the times.

“Where he wants to take the company was interesting to me. He’s focused on growth and diversification — both important business factors for me,” she says.

With outside expertise helping him chart a new course, Lipsett plans for Charles River Apparel to be agile and profitable for years to come.

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