Nordstrom Employees Get Candid About Retail Legend Bruce Nordstrom

Tonight, Bruce Nordstrom will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the FN Achievement Awards in New York. In recognition of the honor, a number of former and current Nordstrom team members reminisced about the biggest lessons they’ve learned from the retail legend.

Erik Nordstrom, co-president
“So much of what my dad believes in when it comes to retail, is best exemplified on the shoe floor. The commitment to extended sizes, wide selection, latest fashion and, most of all, customer service. You literally are on your hands and knees in front of the customer trying to take care of them. This spirit of service and healthy humility is a great lesson for us wherever we are serving customers. (2) Be supportive of your family. Loyalty has always been of the utmost importance to my dad, and nowhere does this show more than when he talks about family. This doesn’t mean we can’t disagree. In fact, we should disagree from time to time, as we are different people. In the end, we should always support each other. (3) Short hair is better. (4) For us, the key to customer service is finding ways to make the person dealing directly with a customer really care and have a sense of ownership. Our company is at its best when our people operate like their name is on the building.”

Pete Nordstrom, co-president
“[His best advice was to] get on the floor — the sales floor. All the answers to your business are on the floor.”

Blake Nordstrom, co-president
“Pete, Erik and I were really fortunate to spend our early years in the business in the shoe division. What we learned back then in many ways is still applicable today as we support the business. We were extremely fortunate to work with a number of terrific managers. They, in turn, were supported by our dad, who was unwavering over the years in his true north of how to be a good merchant and be successful in the shoe business.”

Gary Gledhill, retired Nordstrom merchant
“As a young manager, one of the lasting memories [of Mr. Bruce] revolves around handling returns and customer service. I believed I was doing the Nordstrom company a favor to occasionally refuse to accept a return from a questionable source or cantankerous customer. In a one-on-one conversation with Mr. Bruce, he reminded me I was actually doing the company a disservice by alienating anyone over a return. It was not my money to refund but was indeed his money, and if he and the family wanted to give it away in refunds, it was not in my role to refuse. From that moment forward, it made this refund process painless and productive.”

Jamie Nordstrom, president of stores
“Bruce has always been a very customer-centric leader, probably before that was even a term. It’s about keeping things simple, focusing on the customer right in front of you, listening to them and doing the hard things well. That has proven to be a durable strategy to build customer loyalty.”

Bruce Nordstrom
Bruce Nordstrom took over leadership of the department store in the early 1960s.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nordstrom

Jack Minuk, retired EVP & GMM, shoe division
“[In 1981], I was a new buyer/manager of our Tacoma [Wash.] women’s shoe department. Mr. Bruce came to visit [and] asked me a few questions about business, and I tried to hide my nervousness by only giving answers I knew were correct. He then asked me about working with Dave Butler, our corporate pacesetter. Dave sold over $750,000 annually at that time. I said he was amazing and made some sort of comment that he made twice as much money as I did as the buyer/manager. In classic form (which I understood over time), Mr. Bruce said, ‘Well, Jack, he’s worth twice as much as you.’ I was pretty speechless but later realized that Mr. Bruce was sending me a message: At Nordstrom, the inverted pyramid [ranks] salespeople as the most important asset of the company.”

Scott Meden, Nordstrom EVP, CMO
“What really stands out is the incredible consistency of his messages: How our No. 1 priority of customer service developed and that with our roots as a shoe company, that meant both literally and figuratively the willingness to serve customers on our knees; the importance of being humble and having a servant leader mentality; that the most important people in our company are those that serve the customers and the rest of us are here to support and enable them to do that (the inverted pyramid); how retail is an ‘energy’ business and having a sense of urgency is critical; [and] the idea that we’re a family business, but that doesn’t mean just the Nordstrom family, it’s all of us and really about our culture and the way we work together. [He taught us] that we should all feel that we own our piece of the business and have a proprietary and entrepreneurial spirit; that maybe the most important key to success, in your career and life, is to be yourself.”

Tacey Powers, VP & DMM, Nordstrom Rack
“One [piece of advice from Bruce Nordstrom] sticks out that is so simple: Be nice. That has never let me down, and there has never been a problem too big or too heated that wasn’t best served with that advice. What I love is that Mr. Bruce always gave advice that served all areas of your life, not just your time at work.”

Kristin Frossmo, Nordstrom EVP & GMM, shoe division
“The greatest lesson I’ve learned from Mr. Bruce is humility. He is the most humble, gracious person. He talks about taking care of customers one at a time, serving them on our hands and knees. When I first got my job, I went to get his advice. He kept it so simple: Listen to the customer and do what’s best for them.”

Bruce Nordstrom FNAA WInner 2018
Lifetime Achievement Award winner Bruce Nordstrom.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nordstrom

Daryl Ozuna, retired Nordstrom merchant
“While making a phone call within the Nordstrom offices, whoever answered the phone asked Mr. Bruce: ‘May I ask who is calling?’ He didn’t like that question. He made it clear and well-known that he did not want anyone screening calls that way. He said that asking that question immediately let the caller know they might not be as important as someone else. Even today, when I’m on a call and get that response, I think of what Mr. Bruce said.”

Norm Sadis, retired Nordstrom merchant
“One year, after the holidays were over, I got a call from the fashion editor of The Seattle Times, and she wanted to know how our evening shoe business did for the season. I said: ‘It was so good, even the ugly ones sold.’ She printed what I said verbatim, and I heard about it from Mr. Bruce afterward. In fact, he still haunts me with it.”

Steve Dunn, retired Nordstrom merchant
Mr. Bruce has given sage advice to thousands of folks over the years. However, his personal example as a great father, loyal friend and thoughtful leader will last far longer than his life.

Nathan Stix, retired Nordstrom merchant
“He said that there were three priorities in life and that they should be followed in this order: your health, your family and your career. By focusing on and working hard on these, you will see good results and outcomes. Mr. Bruce always made me feel like a member of his family, and whenever he would come through the stores, he would always stop to say hello and check in. He is truly one of the greatest men in the shoe industry.”

Bob Nunn, retired Nordstrom merchant
“After dozens of meetings with Mr. Bruce, what I remember about him most is that it was not what he said but how he said it, and when I left the meeting, I knew I could not ever let him down.”

Ernie Carino, retired Nordstrom merchant
“What I remember most about Mr. Bruce was that I always felt his support and unconditional love for me in good times and bad times. He’s special. He’s been my mentor since I was 21 years old and started my career at Nordstrom.”

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