Defining Moments: Marvin Traub—The Man Who Made Bloomingdale’s Bloom
By Mike McGrath
I couldn’t help but be impressed when I met Marvin Traub at his office in Manhattan. Before me sat a man who, just one week earlier, had celebrated his 80th birthday at a party in his honor, where two of the biggest names in the fashion and cosmetics industries—Ralph Lauren and Leonard Lauder—gave speeches about his illustrious career. Birthday balloons were still on display in his office as he reminisced about a career that has spanned six decades and has made Mr. Traub’s name synonymous with marketing and retailing.
Donald Trump has called him “the world’s finest retailer”, Queen Elizabeth II once accepted his offer to shop at Bloomingdale’s, he played a significant role in the success of many of today’s star fashion designers, traveled the world to find merchandise that have become American classics, and in doing so transformed Bloomingdale’s into a “store like no other”. Despite all this incredible success, he still took time out his busy day to meet with me, a writer from Montreal working on his first book. I soon found out his willingness to help others reach their goals is one of his defining characteristics. I now know why a Who’s Who list of New York personalities attended that birthday party—not only has Mr. Traub been exceptionally successful, he has also touched the lives of countless individuals with his sincerity and kindness.
Today, at an age when most people have long retired, Mr. Traub is embarking on what he calls his “third career” and has no intention of slowing down. And what an incredible career it has been. This is his story.
Building the foundation
One might say that Marvin Traub was born to be a retailer. Born in the Bronx in April 1925, the only child of Sam and Bea Traub, young Marvin Traub grew up hearing about the ins and outs of merchandising, marketing and customer relations from his parents and their high-profile friends.
Marvin’s father, Sam Traub, was a self-made, very successful marketing type who became the Executive Vice-President of Lily of France, an international lingerie manufacturer. He also went on to become the first American licensee of Christian Dior products and built a network of contacts in France—something Marvin would use to his advantage in his own retailing career. “Because he sold to the heads of all the fine stores like Saks, Neiman’s and Bergdorf’s,” Marvin recalls, “I grew up knowing them and being particularly close to Stanley Marcus (of Neiman Marcus).”
Marvin’s mother, Bea Traub, was famous in her own right. At a time—in the 1930s—when very few women went to work, she worked for retailer Bonwit Teller as a personal shopper and clothes consultant. “My mother had a suite of offices and took care of their most prominent clients, including Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Mary Martin, and the wives and mistresses of an assortment of Greek ship owners.”
“So, retailing was discussed a great deal at the dinner table in my house. I could have either decided I hated it or I liked it—and I guess I decided I liked it.”
Throughout those formative early years, Marvin’s parents instilled in him an appreciation of culture, quality merchandise and fine foods—things that he would later use to his advantage throughout his career. And in introducing him to many of the retailing industry’s most successful people, his parents allowed him to build upon his interest in retailing by modeling people who have been successful. One person in particular, had a more profound effect on Marvin—Stanley Marcus.
Early on, Marvin has set a goal for himself to attend Harvard. He applied for Princeton, Brown and Harvard, but since he preferred Harvard, he sought out ways to help with his application. At 16, Marvin met with his parents’ friend Stanley Marcus, who was then a very active Harvard alumnus, and asked him to write a letter of recommendation. From that initial meeting, Marvin received his letter of recommendation and also started what became a lifelong friendship with Stanley Marcus, a man who Marvin now says he patterned his retailing career after.
“Between my parents and Stanley I had an interest in the retail industry. Was there a defining moment early on? No. But was there a buildup of interest? Yes.”
Marvin entered Harvard College in June 1942, at age 17. At the time, the college had gone to a full-year trimester program to accommodate students leaving to serve in World War II. Like many people his age, the war became increasingly influential in his life and the next year, when he turned 18, Marvin joined the army’s Specialized Training Program (ASTP). He briefly served in the Army Engineering program before transferring to the infantry. He was sent overseas as part of the 379 Infantry, 95th Division as a First Scout leader and landed on Utah Beach (Normandy, France) three weeks after D-Day. For months, his squad fought their way across France until, on November 14th, 1944, a defining moment was suddenly thrust upon him.