How often have we read or heard the phrase “…so and so is stepping down,” when announcing or referring to a colleague who is retiring? Michael Gould, CEO of Bloomingdale’s, is officially doing this on February 1st. However, after 22 years of elevating that revered brand to a higher level, building on the brilliant achievements of his legendary predecessor, Marvin Traub, who created a store “like no other store in the world;” in my opinion, Mike is not “stepping down.” He is just continuing to move “up” in life.
In life there are doers and observers. And, there are leaders and followers. Mike Gould is a doer, (still with incredible energy), and a leader, with an exclamation point on leader. So, whatever it is he will be “stepping up” to, he will be “doing” leadership. And, it will be done in his unique way, which is not about titles or rank, or just about leading employees in business. And it certainly isn’t about exercising the power those titles bestowed upon him to direct those under him to follow without question.
Mike’s leadership philosophy has always been about helping each individual find his or her, own unique path in life. Building trust, humility, empathy and thinking of others ahead of himself, are his defining characteristics. Of his CEO role at Bloomingdale’s, he was quoted in a New York Times article as saying: “I’d like to think my legacy will be the ‘people come first’ environment I’ve tried to create. Employees’ personal growth and education has always been the first thing I wanted to talk about because I felt that as long as people knew that Bloomingdale’s was a place where you could grow, they’d know there was no reason to go somewhere else.
At the end of the day, no one remembers anyone’s numbers, no matter how good they were at any moment in time. I hope people will say, ‘He gave me an opportunity to be more than I thought I could be’ — and that they will carry that forward as they manage people in the future.”
I was envious that the New York Times “scooped” that bit of Mike’s philosophy, but I’m certainly not too proud to give them the credit, because it is central to my view of him; it explains why I believe he is moving “up” rather than “stepping down.”
Now he will have the expanse of life to influence, teach and lead many more people “to be more than they thought they could be.” His father was a teacher, and Mike expressed to me that this is something that very much interests him. He does speak often about leadership in conversation, as a guest lecturer and at more formal conference venues. So don’t be surprised if one of his forays into his new life is teaching, perhaps a leadership course at his alma mater, Columbia University where he received his MBA.
What Did He Do in His Day Job
I would be remiss within the mission of The Robin Report not to provide my perspective on how Mike took Bloomingdale’s to a higher level, strategically positioning it for growth into the 21st Century, and what could metaphorically be called the “World War III” of retailing. Marvin Traub did create the “center ring,” so to speak, in pioneering some of the most exciting and entertaining experiences in retailing at the 59th Street store. However, Mike envisioned a more expansive Bloomingdale’s, spreading the excitement and experience into all of their stores, which grew during his tenure from 14 to 37, plus 13 outlet stores. And he was among the “first movers” in expanding internationally, opening
Bloomingdale’s in Dubai.
He also continued the Bloomingdale’s focus on finding emerging designers and new brands to keep “newness” flowing through the store. He was quoted: “That’s the kind of business I wanted to run. We weren’t going to try to replicate anything else; the plan was to do what no one else did.”
His thoughts on creating an exciting shopping experience were captured in a conversation I had with him for The Robin Report. He said, “To me it all revolves around one thing. How is the store this interactive place that creates relationships? How is the store about something more than theater, but a sense of excitement? It’s about, ‘wow I didn’t expect that.’ It’s a place of discovery. Today you can call Daniel or Shun Lee East in New York and they’ll deliver three-star take-out to your office or home. Anyone can deliver. So why come into a store? Why go to a movie theater when you can watch Netflix at home, for almost nothing? Because it’s all about the experience. That to me is what it’s about.”
“Charles Swindoll who said, Life is 10% what’s given you; 90% how you want to deal with it. We’ve got that 90%. The 10%, that’s the yucky weather. But the 90%, which is our attitude, is what we are doing to create an environment that says “Wow! I’ve got to go there!”
So instead of having “big shoes to fill” upon Marvin Traub’s departure, Mike created his own shoes. Likewise, Mike’s very capable and visionary successor in his own right, Tony Spring, will create his own shoes.
Mike likes to refer to a John Gardner article in 1990 about personal renewal, and says: “Life is an endless process. When you get out of college you say: ‘I’ve got my degree, I graduated with a solid GPA, I played intercollegiate sports, I spent a year in Europe. Now I’m going to go work.’ No, you’re not going to go work. You’re going to go learn. Part of what you’re going to learn about here is retail and part of what you’re going to learn is about life and interpersonal skills. It’s everyone’s role at Bloomingdale’s to make sure these kids are learning. And it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep learning.”
So with a new pair of shoes that no one will ever fill, Michael Gould is off to learn more about life.