The lifelong retail lesson Qurate’s former CEO learned from selling vacuums door-to-door

Mike George, former president and CEO of Qurate Retail, Inc., answers "20 Questions"
By Lottie Watts
Published Feb 16, 2022

Ahead of co-hosting the NRF Foundation Honors, Mike George – who retired as president and CEO of Qurate Retail, Inc. in October 2021 – answers “20 Questions” about what he learned from his first job, the biggest risk he took in his career and more.

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

What was your first job?

My first job was as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. That was a tough job and a humbling job.

But I can tell you this – knocking on strangers' doors and being invited into their homes and demonstrating the product often in front of the whole family, trying to make the sale – it was a real close-up lesson on the impact we have as retailers on people's lives, and the importance of operating with integrity and care for the customer in everything we do.

What was the biggest risk you've taken in your career?

The greatest risk was probably taking on the role as CEO of QVC. At a time when the conventional wisdom – this was back 16 years ago – was that QVC was doomed for immediate extinction. It would be a victim of the digital world that would quickly pass us by.

I was confident that there was a next horizon for QVC. So, I'm pleased to report to you today that we're still alive and well, and nearly three times bigger than we were back then when I first joined the company.

What innovations are you most proud of?

I'm most proud that as a team – and it was such a team effort – we were able to continuously adapt our business to where the customer was going, and emerge as a leader in mobile commerce, social commerce and livestream shopping.

And this is the important part: all the while staying true to who we were – a company that lived by a set of values, and cared deeply about its customers, and worked hard every day to earn their trust, and to create customers for life.

What three skills are key to succeeding in retail?

The first skill is to love the customer, and truly see the world through their eyes, to try to respect, and understand, and value the life that they lead, to strive every day to try to make their lives a little better.

The second skill is kind of a corollary to that, which is to love your teammates, and to recognize that the employee experience and the customer experience are two sides of the same coin, indivisible from each other.

And the third skill that I think is so critical in retail is to be able to zoom in on the most micro details of the business. Because success or failure in retail is measured in inches, and at the same time, being able to zoom out, to see the whole playing field, to understand where the business and the industry are going and how your choices fit in.

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

I'd love to debunk the belief that retail may be a good first job, but not the place to build a career. The fact is there are infinite ways to build a diverse career in retail, and I just can't imagine a more dynamic, innovative, fast-paced, engaging, customer-focused industry to be a part of.

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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