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Vera Bradley co-founder heading toward retirement

Miller

Vera Bradley Inc.’s co-founder has designs on retirement.

Patricia Miller is stepping down from the Fort Wayne-based company effective Oct. 31, officials announced late Thursday.

Miller will continue to be a director on the company’s board. Michael Miller, her husband, also serves on the board.

Vera Bradley designs and makes quilted cotton handbags, luggage, accessories and home décor items, including bedding, placemats and picture frames. In March, the company reported fiscal 2012 earnings of $57.9 million on sales of $460.8 million.

Miller and friend Barbara Baekgaard founded Vera Bradley 30 years ago after noticing during an airport layover that women’s luggage was anything but exciting.

The women, who named the business for Baekgaard’s mother, started their venture by spreading colorful fabric across a ping pong table, then cutting pieces that would be sewn into bags.

The partners launched an initial public offering of stock in October 2010.

Baekgaard will continue her role as the company’s chief creative officer.

Mike Ray, Vera Bradley’s CEO, praised the “solid foundation and positive culture” Miller helped establish at the company.

“Vera Bradley is a thriving enterprise today because of a friendship that spans several decades,” he said in a statement.

“Pat’s business skills paired with Barb’s creative talents were the perfect combination to successfully launch this company in 1982.”

Miller, who has been Vera Bradley’s national spokeswoman in recent years, served as Indiana’s first secretary of commerce and president of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. in 2005 under Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Daniels last year referred to Vera Bradley as “a standout homegrown success story.”

The comment was made after the company announced plans to invest $22.5 million and create up to 124 new jobs by 2015 as it nearly doubled its Roanoke distribution center.

Vera Bradley employs about 2,200 companywide. The number of local workers wasn’t available late Thursday.

Miller serves on the boards of the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer, Indiana University Foundation, Indiana University Varsity Club and the Indiana University Women’s Philanthropy Council.

She plans to continue her non-profit board service in retirement. No other plans were announced.

Vera Bradley’s stock closed at $21.53, up $1.13, Thursday on the Nasdaq stock market.

The announcement was made after trading ended for the day.

sslater@jg.net

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