A Series of firsthand views from industry leaders on the retail landscape, careers, personal insights, and the future of retail.
Michael Gould – Leadership, Marketing & Mentoring Consultant; Former CEO, Bloomingdale’s
How did you get into the business?
I got into retailing the summer of ’67 when I was in Columbia Business School and looking for a summer job. I was one of six accepted for a new summer program at A&S in Brooklyn. And so was Mickey Drexler! I was blown away by the experience. I couldn’t believe that people at such an early age had so much responsibility and authority. When I graduated, I joined A&S full time in ’68.
Who has been your greatest influence/mentor?
My parents. When I think about mentors, we learn from lots of people; everyone we meet in our careers, our bosses. But the two people that affected me the most were my parents. My dad was a biochemistry professor at MIT and an advisor to the pre-med program there. My mom earned her master’s degree in public health, also at MIT. l learned early on the value to help other people. And my role in business was to help people grow to become more than they thought they could be. My parents taught me the importance of giving back, getting involved in nonprofits and taking on responsibilities outside of your work.
What is your greatest source of inspiration, or where do you get your best ideas?
I’ll quote Yogi Berra. “You can observe a lot just by watching.” I love travel, theater, museums, meeting people and talking, going to college campuses, giving talks and meeting young people. Everything you see in life and every relationship is about learning. John Gardner, founder of Common Cause, said, “Life is an endless unfolding and—if we wish it to be—an endless process of self-discovery, an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life situations in which we find ourselves.” It’s all about learning every day, and when you stop learning, it’s all over. Life is an endless process, not a summit to conquer or a puzzle to be completed.
What retail operation do you think is innovative & sustainable?
Apple is #1. It has combined service, product, the environment and experience. Disney is the same. They are brilliant at creating experiences. If you don’t offer experience, you are just selling products.
What is your favorite place to shop?
Surprisingly, I’m not a big shopper. But when I do, what excites me is the experience. It can be at Walmart, Costco, Apple, the hardware store, and of course, Bloomingdale’s, the store of the moment.
What’s your favorite online site?
I get my books from Amazon!
Over the last five years, what has been the biggest change in the industry?
Computerization, mobile, the 24/7 marketplace—anywhere, anytime.
What do you think will change the most in the next five years?
I’m not a soothsayer, but what has to change is that retail has to think about the experiences they are delivering. I read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about McDonald’s. The gist was that if the new CEO just thought about price and product, he was finished. What is it that makes us want to go to there? What is the experience? Apple and Disney get it.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
Those who know me know that I am very sentimental.
What books are you reading?
I’m a history buff and read about one book a week. My recents: “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough, which speaks to the power of success. “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be,” by Frank Bruni, is mandatory for any parent of a teenager. “Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German
Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz,” by Thomas Harding is so compelling.
What’s your favorite leisure activity?
I love to play tennis, read and travel.
What lessons have you learned from elsewhere in your life that you can apply to retail?
What we learn, we learn from life. A great Yiddish proverb is, “Take care of your health first, you can always hang yourself later.” Retail isn’t about saving the world or finding a cure. But it is about helping people make great careers. It’s a long game. Nelson Mandela said you have to have your core values and your garden that you continue to nurture. I believe you have to find what you really believe in—that will give you the greatest satisfaction in life.