It’s not every day that the president of a billion-dollar company hands out his email address to a group of undergrads. But not every company president is like Blake Nordstrom.
On April 30, Blake Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom, gave a brief presentation and answered student questions in an undergraduate retailing course. He began his presentation with a wide smile and disarming honesty. “We have a motive here; we’re hoping some of you will come work for us,” he said.
After a little backstory on the humble beginnings of both the man (who started in the stockroom of the shoe department) and the company (which started as a Seattle shoe store), Nordstrom launched into a discussion on the impact of company culture. “Fashion changes, values do not,” he said. Over the course of the presentation Nordstrom emphasized his company’s commitment to both their customers and employees. He attributed much of their success to an inverted pyramid model where customers are at the top, followed by the employees who work most closely with customers, and management is at the bottom. “Our business works when we live that pyramid,” he said.
Nordstrom elaborated on his company’s commitment to customer service and customer experience. “It’s all about making the customer feel good,” he said. He underscored the importance of making the customer feel empowered, as if it were their name, not his, on the door. Online shopping is one part of that customer empowerment strategy. “Ecommerce helps customers shop on their terms,” he said. On the subject of the retailer’s liberal returns policy, he stated believing in the customer creates trust, which in turn creates sales volume.
Next, Nordstrom talked about the importance of employee growth. “We really believe leadership development is grounded in experience,” he said. He emphasized the company’s practice of promoting from within and how they strive to give managers hands-on training, citing that most managers cut their teeth on Nordstrom Rack stores before moving to full-line stores. He then discussed the company’s commitment to social responsibility—embodied by the Nordstrom Cares project and its motto, “leave it better than we found it.” Nordstrom emphasized importance of having workers who want to be associated with the company and its values. He stated job seekers should make sure a company’s principals align with their personal principals.
Nordstrom ended the presentation by discussing the company’s internship program—and its 80% retention rate—before opening up the floor for questions. Students asked questions ranging from potential international expansion to the impact of social media. On the subject of social media, Nordstrom discussed their success in creating excitement and energy. “We’ve got to try new things. If it doesn’t work, we learn from it quickly and move on,” he said.