Remembering Blake Nordstrom: Top Fashion Execs on a Singular Leader

Blake Nordstrom, the fourth-generation co-president of the legendary family retail business, died unexpectedly Wednesday after revealing he had lymphoma last month.

Here, top executives remember the humble leader, who started his career in the stockroom and rose through the ranks to become one of retail’s most influential personalities, who cared deeply about his employees, customers and partners.

Josh Schulman, CEO & brand president, Coach
“I am so sad to hear of Blake’s passing. What was exceptional about his leadership is the consistency with which he applied the Nordstrom values to all customers, employees, vendors and the communities the company serves. As the title of his father Bruce’s book indicates, Blake truly left the company better than he found it.
“In 2009, I had the honor of speaking at the Nordstrom annual shareholders meeting and receiving the annual Partner in Excellence award while I was CEO of Jimmy Choo. It was a true honor to speak alongside Blake, Pete and other Nordstrom executives, but the highlight of the event for me was the night before when Bruce Nordstrom hosted a family-style dinner and I was able to watch Blake talk shop with his father and brothers. This could have been any family business in the country, but it was already a $16 billion juggernaut, and they were talking about their customers and vendors as if it were still the corner store.”

Diane Sullivan, CEO, president and chairman, Caleres Inc.

“It’s hard to put into words what I’m thinking and feeling. First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers are with his family as well as with the Nordstrom team.  Blake was kind, a gentleman and great leader, a visionary, a collaborator and someone who just cared about everyone. I respected him enormously, and I’ll miss him.”

Sam Edelman, co-founder and president, Sam Edelman
“It is a tragedy. I am devastated. I’ve known Blake since he was a buyer at Nordstrom in Northern California. When we were young men, we took his boat out on the Puget Sound. I remember his smile and the joy on his face as the captain. I want to live with that smile.”

Jeffrey Kalinsky, founder and president, Jeffrey New York and VP of designer fashion direction for Nordstrom
“First of all, there are no words to describe how amazing this entire family is. Every member is quite inspiring in the way they lead their lives and are such great examples. They really astound me. Blake was a really great man. The thing I’ll always remember is something would happen, and there would be a surprise of a beautifully written letter from Blake. He took such great care not to let things pass without noting them. And not to just note them, but to write quite lengthy letters expressing pride, encouragement and congratulations to me, and not just to me. I remember my father received a handwritten letter around some sort of accomplishment of mine. Blake didn’t even know my father very well. But he took the time to write a handwritten letter to my dad. Blake was a guy who went the extra mile to let people know he cared.”

George Malkemus, president, Manolo Blahnik USA

“Some years ago, I had Blake and (his wife) Molly at my farm in Connecticut and I will remember — ever so fondly — him gathering eggs and us all laughing as hens squawked and pecked until he had a dozen. We made Molly promise to make him an omelet back in Seattle, and I joked about how were they ever going to get them through airport security? Blake smiled, in his usual shy manner, and said, ‘That’s why we have a plane.’ It was an enchanting moment.”

Steve Madden, founder, Steve Madden
“I first met Blake when he was a buyer for just one Nordstrom store. He was a very impressive executive and struck me as very serious. Over the years, I was able to get to know Blake more and more. It was amazing to see more of his personality. He had quite the sense of humor, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with him.”

Anna Bakst, CEO & brand president, Kate Spade
“I’m deeply saddened to hear the news about Blake, and my heart goes out to the entire Nordstrom family.  The thing that always struck me about Blake and his brothers is how deeply involved they are in the business. He was a force and a major part of what has made Nordstrom a special place for its customers.  He will be missed.”

Connie Rishwain, president, Vionic, and former president, Ugg
“I’m heartbroken. I have so much love and admiration for Blake and his dad and family. He was always so supportive and grateful for our [Ugg] partnership. Every January, I would receive a personal email from him thanking me for our business. He had amazing attention to detail and dedication to our customers. He was so full of life. I am so honored to have been able to work with him and know him. My heart goes out to his family and to all of the Nordstrom employees.  He was the heart and soul of the company.”

Greg Tunney, global president, Hush Puppies
“Blake was an incredible leader, not only in our industry but also in the community as well as at his beloved alma mater the University of Washington where he and his wife served as a trustees.  Once Blake met you, he always remembered you and called you by your first name. Blake was the one individual in the footwear business, that I never heard anyone, ever say a negative word about during my 30 years in the business.  Our industry is better today because of Blake Nordstrom and he will be greatly missed.”

Joe Ouaknine, chairman of Titan Industries
“I met Blake about 35 years ago. He was the buyer for Department 36 at the Seattle store. He never told me he was the son of the owner. He made it sound that he had the Nordstrom name by coincidence. He was extremely humble and very low-key. Though his progression and throughout the years, he never changed.  He always acted like a student and was eager to learn something new. He was a force, but you never knew it. He gained the respect of all and was a true leader.”

Jack Boys, CEO, Cole Haan
“We are deeply saddened to hear of Blake’s passing. The Nordstrom family and their outstanding employees have been long-standing and valued partners. On behalf of everyone at Cole Haan, our deepest sympathies go to Molly, Alex, Andy and the entire extended Nordstrom family.”

Eric Harrison, CEO, J. Renee’ Group
“First and foremost, he was a great person. Obviously he was also a great leader for his family, for his business and for the Nordstrom brand. It’s hard to think of Nordstrom without thinking about Blake and his contributions to the footwear industry and the people he led and mentored in it.”

Cory Baker, COO, Marquee Brands
“We lost a giant with Blake’s passing, but he left us with life and business lessons that will honor his legacy.  Blake was famous for ensuring that Nordstrom’s management reported to the staff and the customer. More listening and less directives would ensure a consumer-centered approach and frankly a better way to approach life in general. We are student’s of Blake’s vision and have built our company around those very same principles. Our deepest thoughts are with the Nordstrom family.”

Rob Moehring, chairman, Washington Shoe Co.
“Blake always maintained an open door, had an open mind and was generous with his time. He was a true caring person. He learned from father Bruce, a brilliant merchant who was the prime driver behind Nordstrom.”

With contributions by Sheena Butler-Young

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