A few weeks ago Burt Tanksy, the 72 year old CEO of Dallas based Neiman Marcus retired. His 49-year retailing resume was as impressive as you would imagine – ranging from SVP of I.Magnin to President of Saks Fifth Avenue to CEO of Bergdorf Goodman and finally as CEO and Chairman of Neiman Marcus Group – all after beginning his life in a working class neighborhood in Pittsburgh. Given the daunting recession we face today, how can Neiman Marcus (coined “needless markup” by many) survive, and under Mr. Tanksy’s leadership, thrive? A few key lessons from his legacy:
- Never forget your customer and what they want. In this case: predominately female, with average incomes of over $250,000, her net worth wavering with the stock market, well-traveled, high profile/high-paying job (or married to one), and a very demanding social calendar. With that, the average expenditure at NM for these targeted clients is at a minimum $12,000 a year. And most importantly – they want the best. Period. Neiman Marcus knew that and delivered that despite the market trend perhaps painting another picture.
- Never forget who you are and what you stand for (personally and professionally) AND have nerves of steel to swing for those fences. Push, push, push – know your business better than anyone. Burt Tanksy is a merchant’s merchant. He played big, he risked big, and he delivered big.
- Give back to the community who has been so good to you. He encouraged corporate citizenship and volunteerism. He actually created a “C-level” position to manage NM’s philanthropic endeavors. He rewarded volunteerism with paid time off, company sponsorship activities, and ongoing donations to Dallas ministries of his own suits and fine goods. Brings to mind the adage ‘all that goes around comes around.’
These are three sterling items worthy of each of us remembering and certainly representative of the sterling brand Stanley Marcus created and built so many years ago.