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Bruce Nordstrom, who helped lead his family’s retail empire, dies at 90

Bruce Nordstrom, who with three other members of the Nordstrom family transformed a small chain of shoe stores in the Pacific Northwest into an international fashion retail giant with more than 150 locations worldwide, is died Saturday at his home in Seattle. He was 90 years old.

His death was confirmed by a company spokeswoman.

As the grandson of John W. Nordstrom, the company’s Swedish immigrant founder, Mr. Nordstrom was part of the third generation of the family to run the company jointly, sharing power and making decisions by consensus, an unusual but successful Nordstrom tradition that continues to endure. this day.

He shared leadership with his cousins ​​John N. Nordstrom and Jim Nordstrom, who were brothers, and Jack McMillan, who was married to their cousin Loyal Nordstrom.

Management by committee is considered a business school formula that leads to disaster, but the Nordstrom family, starting with Bruce’s father, Everett, and Everett’s brothers, Elmer and Lloyd, have decided that they could be more effective as co-leaders of the company, founded in 1901 in Seattle.

When Lloyd Nordstrom called 30-year-old Bruce into his office in 1963 and made him president of the company, the younger Mr. Nordstrom accepted the job but quickly decided he would emulate his father’s generation and share leadership with his three loved ones.

“Obviously the arrangement worked very well,” Bruce Nordstrom wrote in a 2007 autobiography, “Leave It Better Than You Found It.” “It was wonderful for them and it was wonderful for me because I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.”

Robert Spector, author of “The Nordstrom Way,” a 1996 book about the company’s vaunted reputation for customer service, noted that Bruce Nordstrom was “the nominal leader of the group.” But the company’s egalitarian system, in which each leader was responsible for an area of ​​expertise, operated through a mixture of pride and humility, with the company always putting the needs of each individual before the needs of each individual.

“Bruce was a very humble but very proud guy,” Mr. Spector said in an interview for this obituary in 2019. “He was quiet and didn’t take himself too seriously. But he wanted to win.

Starting with seven shoe stores in Seattle and Portland, Oregon, the family quickly grew the chain from the late 1970s through the ’80s, expanding into California and then across the country while adding a full line of clothing and accessories. What was once a regional shoe store chain with sales of less than $40 million has grown into a retail giant, operating 182 stores in 28 states and offering online shopping in 30 countries, with a turnover of more than 9 billion dollars.

When the family opened a retail location in Southern California in 1978, Bruce Nordstrom and his cousins ​​faced a wave of skepticism about their growth plan. “There were people at the time who said, ‘Why are you going to ruin everything by opening there?’ You’re doing well in the Northwest, but it’s a different, more sophisticated customer” in California, “and you’re going to blow it,” Mr. Nordstrom said in a 2018 interview with Footwear News.

Although he was mild-mannered, he was nonetheless an ambitious and determined leader whose response to this negativity only pushed him to work harder, he said. “I liked proving that we could actually do something,” he said. “We evolved, moved and had success. The success gave us the confidence to continue. »

Mr. Nordstrom acknowledged that company executives had occasional differences. “We don’t always agree,” he told Footwear News, “but we vote when we need to decide things. Sometimes behind closed doors there may be smoke. But we are determined to find a solution. When we go out, we go out as one. »

Bruce Allen Nordstrom was born in Seattle on October 1, 1933. His mother, Elizabeth (Jones) Nordstrom, known as Libby, was an accomplished singer who performed on radio.

During World War II, when he was 9 years old, Bruce began working at the Nordstrom shoe store in downtown Seattle on Saturdays and summers. He swept floors and took apart boxes for 25 cents an hour. Queuing with other employees to collect his salary, he was proud to be a paid staff member, he recalled in his memoirs.

He then earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Washington in Seattle, where most of the Nordstrom men graduated, and rowed for the school’s renowned team. While finishing college, he met Fran Wakeman, a freshman from Seattle, and after an on-and-off romance for years, the couple married. They had three sons, Blake, Peter and Erik, all of whom went to work for Nordstrom.

After graduating from college in 1955, Mr. Nordstrom joined the Army and served for six months as a lieutenant at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. When he returned to Seattle, he got to work managing one of the company’s stores. His future in management was clear.

Mr. Nordstrom retired in 2006 as president, but continued to play an integral role in the company’s stores. Forbes this year estimated his wealth at $1 billion.

Fran Nordstrom died in 1984. Four years later, Mr. Nordstrom married Jeannie O’Roark. His eldest son, Blake, died of cancer in 2019.

He is survived by his wife; his sons Peter and Erik, who continue to help run the business; a sister, Anne Gittinger; and seven grandchildren.

Alex Traub reports contributed.

News Source : www.nytimes.com
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