President, Nordstrom, Incorporated
Born: 1961, in Washington.
Education: University of Washington, 1982.
Family: Son of Bruce Nordstrom (chairman of Nordstrom, Incorporated).
Career: Nordstrom, Incorporated, 1974–1983, stockperson, then salesman in the women's shoe division; 1983–1987, buyer; 1987–1988, merchandise manager for women's shoes for Nordstrom Rack, the Place Two division, and the Alaska stores; 1988–1991, merchandise manager for women's shoes for stores in Washington and Alaska; 1991–1995, vice president and general manager of the Washington and Alaska region, overseeing operations for eight full-line stores, two Nordstrom Rack stores, and the Place Two division; 1995–2000, copresident (along with five brothers and cousins) with responsibilities including operations, the shoe division, and Nordstrom Rack; February–August 2000, president of Nordstrom Rack; August 2000–, corporate president.
Awards: Named one of the 50 most powerful people in Washington, Washington CEO , 2004.
Address: Nordstrom, 1617 Sixth Avenue, Seattle, Washington 98101; http://www.nordstrom.com.
■ When Blake Nordstrom took the helm of Nordstrom, Incorporated in the summer of 2000, he represented the fourth generation of the Nordstrom family to run the Seattle-based department store chain. Blake had grown up with the company, and some employees and analysts thought that it was only natural for him to eventually lead it. When he became president, however, Nordstrom was struggling with sagging sales and lowered stock prices. Blake launched an aggressive new strategy that introduced newer computer technology for tracking sales and inventory while reviving the company's longstanding commitment to customer service. Within four years he had not only improved Nordstrom's profitability but had also made plans for expansion.
Blake Nordstrom was the great-grandson of John W. Nordstrom, a Swedish immigrant who invested the $13,000 he'd made from a gold mine stake in a Seattle shoe store that eventually grew into a nationwide chain of department stores. Even though Blake was a member of the Nordstrom family, however, he did not receive preferential treatment. He worked in the stockroom of the shoe department in Nordstrom's flagship Seattle store at the age of 13, along with several other Nordstrom children. Blake swept the floor and restocked merchandise. "[The Nordstrom children] paid their dues. They worked really hard," said Betsy Sanders, a former Nordstrom vice president, speaking of Blake and his siblings ( BusinessWeek , July 30, 2001).
By working hard at the lower levels of the company's hierarchy, Blake rose quickly through the ranks from salesman and buyer to merchandise manager and store manager. In 1991 he was named vice president and general manager of Nordstrom's Washington and Alaska region. Four years later he shared the position of president with five other family members—a management experiment in dividing responsibilities. Blake then became president of the Rack Group—a discount store unit—in February 2000, when Nordstrom was reorganized into five separate units. Blake succeeded in raising the sales of the Rack Group by nearly 20 percent within the first few months of his presidency.
As the 21st century dawned, however, Nordstrom was in trouble. Its sales had slowed down and its stock prices had declined. Nordstrom's board of directors even considered merging with another retailer or selling the company. Instead, the long-time chairman John Whitacre resigned—or was ousted, according to some analysts. Whitacre had been with Nordstrom since 1976, when he started out selling shoes while still a student at the University of Washington. He eventually rose to the chairman and CEO position. Although he made great strides in modernizing the company, he shifted away from the traditional customer-focused philosophy and began focusing more on Nordstrom shareholders. When Whitacre resigned as CEO, Blake took the position of president and his father became chairman. The company left the CEO position open and has not since filled it. The board hoped that reinstating the Nordstrom family at the executive level would turn the company around.
Although some managers and salespeople were pleased by the return of Nordstrom family members to executive positions, others wondered whether Blake had sufficient experience at the age of 39 to handle the job of president. Blake and his father assured the analysts, however, that they were carefully reviewing every aspect of the business and were determined to make it profitable once again. When Blake assumed the presidency, he was quoted as saying, "My name's on the door. Every penny I have is in Nordstrom stock" ( Puget Sound Business Journal , September 29, 2000).
Blake slowed the pace of new store openings in order to focus on Nordstrom's existing stores. He also improved the company's use of technology by investing in speedier cash registers and a computerized inventory system; trimmed the company's inventory; and reemphasized Nordstrom's personalized service culture to bring back disenchanted customers. "We know by giving good service we sell more," Blake told BusinessWeek (July 30, 2001). "It's the heart and soul of our business." But even while catering to Nordstrom's customers, Blake also remembered the company's shareholders. He was as serious about raising the price of Nordstrom's stock as he was about improving service.
Nordstrom did experience a turnaround over the next three years. Its sales and stock prices had risen measurably by 2004, which allowed Blake to turn his attention once again to expanding the chain into new locations.
Blake attributed his success to his policy of listening to and supporting his sales force rather than ordering them to perform. "We believe in an inverted pyramid where management is on the bottom and salespeople and customers are on the top," he told Women's Wear Daily (March 15, 2002).
In addition to Blake's role in his family's company, he served as president of the Downtown Seattle Association, an organization dedicated to preserving the city's business district.
See also entry on Nordstrom, Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories .
"The Corporation: Strategies: Can the Nordstroms Find the Right Style?" BusinessWeek , July 30, 2001, p. 59.
Spector, Robert, "Nordstrom Is More Than a Name, It's a Culture," Puget Sound Business Journal , September 29, 2000, p. 63.
Young, Kristin, "New Nordstrom Blows in L.A.," Women's Wear Daily , March 15, 2002.