Marvin Traub (part 7)

…back to Part 6 – A new beginning

Defining Success

Success comes in many different forms and is different for every individual. Each of us has our own definition of what it means to be successful. For some, success is found in building strong relationships, for others it’s the achievement of financial goals. And many people find that their definition of success today is quite different than what it was years ago. That certainly has been the case for Marvin Traub.

“Early in my life I set a goal for myself for where I wanted my career to be in five year increments from when I got out of business school. I wanted to be a divisional in five years, vice president in 10, president in 20 and chairman in 25. I achieved all of those and I wanted to make X dollars. That, early on, is how I defined success. Now I would define success much more broadly—it’s not just the economic terms but it’s contributing to society and feeling that I’m leaving behind an institution in Bloomingdale’s, leaving behind a family who I think are all wonderful human beings and also a whole group of people who I have helped train and develop.

“You’ve met your success not just in economic terms but also in the contributions you make. And I think that’s a very valuable criteria which you don’t always have when you’re younger—it comes with getting older and a little bit broader point of view.” 

Family and Giving Back
A very large part of the ‘broader point of view’ that Marvin speaks of has certainly been his family—his wife of 56 years, Lee, his children Andrew, James and Peggy, and his grandchildren. Marvin takes pride in being very close to his family. “My wife has been an incredible support. She had her own career, she’s a dancer, and was Chairman of the Martha Graham company, and was heavily involved in the world of dance. And just to prove she could do it, she started her own company in the apron business—made them, sold them to stores and then closed the company down. And I have three children who I am extremely close to. Andrew, who now works with me, was the merchandising manager at Macy’s and President of Best & Company—his wife’s a labor lawyer and litigator. My middle son, Jim, writes for the Sunday Times magazine, teaches at NYU and is now completing his sixth book—his wife is the chair of the European painting and sculpture of the Brooklyn Museum and the head of the curators of the country. My daughter Peggy, who is very much of an entrepreneur, worked at Bloomingdale’s and has started a very successful home furnishings company, called Adesso and she’s part of the Committee of 200—an organization of outstanding women entrepreneurs in our country—and her partner is a successful therapist.”

Marvin and Lee also believe in giving back and so they adopted a foster child from Hong Kong back in 1965. They have helped him through his whole career and he is now a very successful businessman. They also have two very successful Japanese American godchildren who are an integral part of their family.

“Part of what gives one direction and satisfaction is watching one’s children grow up and being close to them as well.”

Another large part of Marvin’s belief in giving back has been his contribution to the careers of the many recipients of the Marvin Traub Scholarship at Harvard. “The students keep in touch, people we’ve helped in their careers. Mentoring has always been very important, so in 1986 we created a scholarship fund at Harvard. We brought the six people in this year’s group to dinner. A student who received it 17 years ago, and who is now a doctor, came back. We took them through our careers—mine and Lee’s—asked them about their interests and aspirations and told them that once they receive the scholarship, we’re interested in them and want to be helpful as they grow and develop. The graduates keep in touch with us and we are able to offer help and guidance. And every other year they organize a reunion so they can get together and we put out a bulletin about what each of them is doing.” 

Lessons Learned

Looking back on Marvin’s Traub career, it’s pretty easy to find areas where he has succeeded at the highest level. Students of marketing and, in particular, the retailing industry would do well to take an in-depth look at the strategies Marvin used to turn Bloomingdale’s into a store “like no other.” But, beyond strategies, tactics and profitability, I think Marvin’s lifelong success can be summarized by four words; perseverance, dedication, uniqueness and contribution.

From the day he was wounded during the war, Marvin showed his perseverance by learning to walk again without a limp. He showed it throughout his retailing career as he stuck with his plan of building Bloomingdale’s with a strong group of individuals who would comb the world for merchandise no-one else had. And in particular, he showed it by continuing to make Bloomingdale’s successful during Campeau’s bankruptcy.

Marvin continuously demonstrated dedication to his job, his colleagues, his friends and his family. In this day and age, how many of us can say we stayed for 41 years with the same company? That took dedication. It also took dedication to his colleagues and suppliers—many of whom were friends—to stay with Bloomingdale’s for two years during the bankruptcy, even when many other people abandoned ship. And it took commitment to his wife and family to build such a successful career and yet still have a happy marriage of more than 56 years.

Probably the one word people would use to describe Bloomingdale’s is unique. Well, it was Marvin’s decision to make it that way. And he continues to be unique to this day. When I met Marvin at his New York office, he handed me his business card—it’s white, has black lettering and uses no graphics, but it’s about one and a half times the size of anyone else’s business card. Whose card do you think would stand out in a stack of business cards? Marvin’s—and that’s the art of being unique.

Contribution is the one area that Marvin felt that success should be defined. Obviously, Marvin contributed greatly to Bloomingdale’s success, but he also had a lasting contribution to the countless number of individuals who worked for him over the years. His contribution is felt by the recipients of his annual Harvard scholarship and the countless other individuals he has ‘given back’ to. And since Marvin’s definition of success hinges on the contributions he has made throughout his career, it seems fitting to end this chapter where it began—Marvin’s 80th birthday party.

“We had, this past week, this 80th birthday with 165 of our closest friends at the Rainbow Room—black tie. Ralph Lauren spoke about my career, Leonard Lauder did, a friend of ours Jerry Shestack who was president of the BAR association did, Skitch Henderson played the piano, Lenny Kravitz showed up, my children all spoke, my grandson spoke, my granddaughters wrote and sang a song… this is all part of a rather full and satisfying career.

“Above all, I really look forward to every day and there are all sorts of challenges—but that’s what life is all about.”

* Additional information obtained from “Like No Other Store” by Marvin Traub and Tom Teicholz.

(c) 2005-2010 Mike McGrath (MCG Media)

3 thoughts on “Marvin Traub (part 7)

  1. Pingback: Defining Moments: Marvin Traub—The Man Who Made Bloomingdale’s Bloom « MCG Media Blog

    • Thank you Greg, I appreciate your comment.

      I haven’t given up hope for my book project. I’ve recently posted on my blog about how I may refocus the book on the Defining Moments of ‘ordinary’ peoople rather than on famous people or those with high profile jobs. So, I’ve put out a call to my blog readers to share their stories. I’m really looking forward to hearing from blog readers around the globe.


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