How the CEO of Macy’s built an extraordinary retail career

"20 Questions" with Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette
By Lottie Watts
Published Feb 9, 2022

Ahead of co-hosting the 2022 NRF Foundation Honors, Macy's, Inc. Chairman and CEO Jeff Gennette answers “20 Questions” about the experiences that have shaped his career, the opportunities in the retail industry and more.

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

What is one misconception about retail you would love to debunk?

The misconception that the industry is slow and outdated – when in fact it is incredibly dynamic. In retail, things are always changing, and it requires constant innovation and fresh ideas. That's perfect for curious people that want to win.

I think this is one of the best industries for people to move between functions and build an exciting career. That was certainly my path. I think it just offers tremendous opportunities to gain this rich professional experience that has meaningful impact for customers.

What is something you learned early on that carries with you into today?

Today I'm known for collaboration, but that was not always the case. Early in my career, I was an electronics buyer for Macy's California. And in every negotiation with vendors, I would go for the jugular. I'd always get what was right for my business. A mentor of mine pulled me aside – he was my boss – and he basically said, "You could win all the battles, but with that behavior you are going to lose the war."

And that was a real turning point for me because he made me understand that it's important to create these win-win partnerships to succeed in this business and that's been one of the hallmarks that I've lived by.

What is your leadership philosophy?

It's fundamental that if you want to drive sustainable results, you've got to have the right people in the right roles. I've made a career of selecting the right people, getting those individual athletes, but then also getting them as team members together and getting the team moving in the right direction.

So the right mosaic of athletes for the right team put against the right strategy is my philosophy. And I've had some good successes, I've had some tough ones; but at the end of the day when I get that formula right, the right athletes, the right team on the right strategy, that's going to be a win for us.

How do you “turn off” work?

I would say admittedly it's hard for me to turn off work. I really try and focus on those things that matter to my loved ones. I have a 22-year-old daughter. I love to spend time with her, so we have a set date that we do every week. I've been with my husband for 30 years. We always have the things that we pursue, we love movies, we love books, we love to hike. So making time for my loved ones gets me off of work.

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

One of the misnomers about retail is people assume that the bulk of the jobs are customer-facing with a register in between you. And I would tell you that almost half of the positions do not actually work in a sales position.

There are exciting opportunities in supply chain. Everybody's talking about data science, marketing, technology, finance, engineering, design. We need talent to create seamless shopping experiences for omnichannel customers. We hire software engineers to develop new experiences and new technologies. We hire data scientists and analysts to optimize supply chain, to predict customers' behavior, to ensure that the businesses run profitably. All this is required because transformation is at the heart of the retail industry, and it's creating this whole host of new and exciting career opportunities.

The NRF Foundation connects people to an industry that’s a great place to start and a great place to grow. Since 2015, the NRF Foundation Honors has raised the funds to continue to provide programs and resources to help people build better lives and stronger communities. Join us in New York City on April 13 and be a part of the story of how retail builds extraordinary careers.

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