…back to Part 2 – Growing up
A legendary retail career begins
Thanks to the influence of his parents and Stanly Marcus, among others, Marvin had an acute interest in pursuing a career in retailing. After college, he worked during the summer in the Macy’s training squad and in between his first and second years of business school, Marvin was part of the A&S summer squad. In the spring of 1949, as he approached graduation from business school, Marvin started interviewing for a permanent position in retailing.
Several of the big stores, including Macy’s & A&S, were interested in hiring business school graduates, but none as much as George Farkas, the Chairman of a store called Alexander’s, who was willing to pay top dollar to the right candidate. “I started at Alexander’s because I was married and they offered a salary of $75 a week while Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s only offered $55. At that age, the money makes a difference,” Marvin says. He started out as an assistant suit buyer but within six months became the buyer of men’s casual pants and outerwear. His future looked bright at Alexander’s, but Marvin didn’t like the management style of his direct superior and decided to leave. He took a position at the Stern Brother’s store, but soon received an invitation to meet with Milton Goldberg; a fellow Harvard alumnus who had interviewed him for Alexander’s but was now at Bloomingdale’s.
Defining Moment: Joining Bloomingdale’s
When we think about defining moments, we often visualize a fork in the road—a moment where we are faced with two, three or more possibilities and where the decision we make, the path we choose, determines where our lives will go from there. Marvin Traub came to a major fork in the road in the summer of 1950. He could have stayed at Stern Brother’s, joined Bloomingdale’s or chosen another path altogether. Given the same choice to make today, his choice would likely be an easy one, but it couldn’t have been that simple back in 1950. Marvin had taken a step up from Alexander’s with his position at Stern’s, but it was still firmly a “basement” moderately-priced store. Bloomingdale’s, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly the cream of the retail crop either.
Bloomingdale’s was a different place in 1950 than it is today. Bloomingdale’s was ranked fifth in New York City in terms of volume behind Macy’s, Altman’s, Gimbels and A&S. The store was 78 years old and was showing its age and had no particular distinction in the retail market. Marvin Traub was about to change all of that.
In the fall of 1950, Marvin received a call from Milton Goldberg, who told him about a new management team at Bloomingdale’s—Jim Schoff (President) and Jed Davidson (Chairman)—who were planning on transforming Bloomingdale’s into a neighborhood store for the Upper East Side of Manhattan. “I met them and I was very impressed with both of them. They had a vision for Bloomingdale’s that I bought into.” Marvin accepted the position and started in the Downstairs Store as an assistant.
From the start, Jed Davidson was somewhat of a mentor to Marvin and had decided to train him for a future role in senior management. And so, within his first seven years at Bloomingdale’s, Marvin held seven different positions including Assistant in the basement store, Hosiery Buyer, Rug Buyer, planning the opening of a store in Stamford (CT), Merchandise Manager of Furniture and Vice President of Home Furnishings. “So I got great exposure throughout the company!”
At each position, Marvin managed to increase the profitability of his department, but also gained more experience and grew as a retailer. His ascent through the ranks continued and in 1962, at the relatively young age of 37, Marvin was named Executive Vice President in charge of all merchandising and sales promotion. Marvin later took over as President in 1969 and Chairman in 1978.
Throughout his 41-year career at Bloomingdale’s, Marvin exercised massive influence on evolving the store into the prestigious name that it has become, but it was the decision to join the store when he did that proved to be critical for Marvin’s eventual success.
Another interesting thing is that when Marvin joined Bloomingdale’s, he set a series of five-year objectives for himself; he wanted to be a divisional manager in five years, a Vice President in 10, President in 20 and Chairman in 25. He achieved all of those objectives; almost all within the timeframes he defined. So, the life lesson we can take from this is: When you make a decision, know your outcome—clearly define what it is you want to achieve.
Achievement at the highest level has always been the trademark of Marvin Traub’s career and he did it in ways that no one else in the retail industry had before…