BJ’s Wholesale Club CFO offers advice on reaching top roles

By Lottie Watts

From the wide variety of opportunities across retail to the first steps to take to reach top leadership positions and more, BJ's Wholesale Club Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Laura Felice offers insights to help you as you get ready for your retail career.

Here are a few questions, along with Felice’s answers (watch the video above for all “20 Questions”):

As you worked your way up, how did you set yourself apart from others?

One thing that has governed me over the years: treat it as a career, not a job. The difference is if you treat it as a career, you’re invested in what you want to do and you’re constantly trying to learn new things.

Try to learn as much as you can and ask questions. There’s a fine balance between asking questions, and asking too many questions, but make sure you’re talking to your peers, your boss and your boss’s boss. You’re trying to learn more about the business. The most impactful thing you can do is not know just your role but what drives the company.

What is your leadership philosophy?

I have two philosophies: lead by example and treat people the way you want to be treated. Underneath that is treating people as adults. I have a big, diverse team, from entry-level all the way to highly educated and highly credentialed. I try to treat them all as employees but all as humans.

There’s a big part of me that I think you’d hear from folks that work for me – it’s more than just work for me. I want to know about people, their personal life if they’re willing to share it, their family, where they like to travel and knowing what’s important to them not only in their professional careers, but personally what they want to achieve. If you can marry that together and understand it, it helps drive longer-term leaders in your team.

In what ways do you believe COVID-19 has permanently changed retail?

The pandemic helped propel our digital business. You don’t always think about a wholesale club as digitally enabled. We expanded our digital capabilities and put a lot of people and investment behind it. We were able to stand up curbside pickup, buy online pick up in club, same-day delivery.  

We were able to offer our members convenience to shop for groceries that they needed, and that was super important, so I think those digital properties that we and a lot of retailers have rolled out have changed the industry. It will continue to be part of the industry.

What are some careers offered within the retail industry that people may not be aware of?

The retail industry is very wide and innovative. You can go everywhere from cashier to sales and all the way up to management. For us, we have 30,000 employees at BJ’s Wholesale Club. I think the hardest job is not CEO or CFO. Some of the most rewarding jobs are out in our clubs – our general managers that run our clubs.

Some of the hidden jobs are the technologists. There’s lots of jobs in supply chain. We have people that work in our organization in communications and in procurement to get us all the products we need to run our company. There’s all sorts of jobs that you wouldn’t think of. My advice would be to explore and look at what kind of postings companies have, and you’d be surprised at how many interesting things there are.

What advice do you have for students or recent graduates on how to work to reach top leadership positions?

The first part is building a network. The world is small. You will meet some of the same people and lots of people move around at companies. Build meaningful relationships.

The second thing is ask for help along the way. There’s this amazing thing that happens when you ask for help – people are willing to help and take time out of their day. Most are willing if you ask.

Set yourself up for retail career success with the NRF Foundation Student Challenge. Gather your team for the business competition and upload your submission by Oct. 10. Learn more about the opportunity to get real-world experience and review the full eligibility requirements here.

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