Hall of Fame: Jack Minuk

Hall of Fame: Jack Minuk
Jack Minuk, photographed for FN in his home outside Seattle.

During his 28 years at Nordstrom, Jack Minuk helped evolve one of the retail industry’s premier footwear destinations.

From the day he began at the company in 1981 until his retirement in March, Minuk, 56, dedicated his entire career to the shoe business. He started out on the selling floor, rising to assistant manager, buyer and merchandising manager and, eventually, EVP and GMM of the shoe division. “Over a period of time, you get the opportunity to seek a number of different department manager jobs,” he said, “but my history with this company is all footwear.”

Minuk’s contribution to the shoe industry pre-dates his time at Nordstrom. While still in college, Minuk worked for U.S. Shoe Co., which was later purchased by Nine West. He later became a buyer for Frederick & Nelson, a Seattle-based department store. But as he considered his career options, Minuk said all roads led to Nordstrom.

“I felt like if I wanted to have any kind of long-term sustainable career, I really wanted to be with Nordstrom,” he said. “For as long as I had been in the business, it was the biggest shoe operation in the country. I needed to work for someone who I felt was the best.”

Through his work experience, Minuk had the connections to secure a meeting and two weeks later, he was working for the Seattle-based department store chain. And while the retiree is hesitant to take credit for the massive success of Nordstrom’s shoe business, preferring to shine the spotlight on his co-workers, execs at the firm said Minuk’s leadership was essential to the development of the company’s famed shoe department.

“Jack led the shoe division for nine years and in that time did a masterful job of balancing the heritage and legacy of our 100-plus years in the shoe business, moving the business forward and embracing change,” said Pete Nordstrom, president of merchandising. “He led [during] a successful time and enhanced our reputation for shoes with our customers.”

For Minuk, one of the biggest lessons learned in his long career — and what may be solid advice to his replacement, Scott Meden — is to be prepared for the unexpected. “Business is very unpredictable,” he said. “Even in great companies, it’s fragile. You really don’t have the luxury of being able to coast for a period of time. You have to have your A-game at all times, and that doesn’t even ensure that you’re always successful. It’s a daily process, and there are no easy accomplishments.”

Minuk made it appear easy, though, as he helped build marquee brands and designer names at Nordstrom, including Ugg, Steve Madden, Tory Burch, Toms Shoes, Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik, Prada and Tod’s. And he is often cited as being instrumental in the development of young designers and brands.

“I found that to be one of the most enjoyable parts of my job, to be able to interact with so many new and talented people who have had a hard time getting started,” Minuk said. “When you find something that’s unique or someone talented, there is a real sense of accomplishment.”

“Anybody with something new and exciting was given a shot by Nordstrom,” said Steve Madden, creative and design chief of Steven Madden Ltd. “Jack made that possible.”

Connie Rishwain, president of Ugg, also praised Minuk’s commitment to nurturing new talent. “Jack has mentored many people on my team over the years and has had a positive impact on all our lives,” she said. “I’m honored to call him my friend.”

He also steered the retailer’s footwear division as it underwent swift growth, highlighted by new store openings in Chicago and Tysons Corner, Va., as well as the relaunch of Nordstrom’s downtown Seattle store.

“I attended almost every store opening over a 15-year period,” said Minuk. “There is nothing more motivating than attending an opening and meeting the people who have worked so hard and [seeing] their passion for the business.”

Since retiring, Minuk has risen to new heights — even to the summit of Mount Rainier. After leaving Nordstrom, Minuk began an intensive six-day-a-week regimen to increase his physical conditioning to accomplish the climb. In September, he and his son, Justin, completed the goal, and in February, the pair plan to tackle Mexico’s Orizaba, the third-highest peak in North America.

Minuk said he also has been reconnecting with family and friends since his retirement, and signed up to be a mentor in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program. “I’ve become a big brother to a terrific 11-year-old boy,” he said. “[It’s been] very enriching.”

And while Minuk said he has no interest in another full-time job, he is considering other business ventures. “I haven’t pursued anything at this point, but I’ve recently been contacted by several people about some projects,” he said. “Interestingly enough, they’re all outside the shoe business. After the first of the year, I’ll consider a few of those [opportunities].”

Still, he added, he will miss the industry, particularly the people he met along the way. “The shoe business is [one] where there is truly a connection between people, between manufacturing, wholesale and retail,” he said. “I found it such a comfortable place to spend my career.”

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