In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are highlighting female leaders in the retail industry. From small business owners to CEOs, women are leading the way.
Karen Katz, chief executive officer and president of Neiman Marcus Group, was elected as the new chair of the NRF Foundation’s Board of Directors in January. With over 35 years of experience, Katz brings an understanding and knowledge of the industry, along with a passion to shape retail’s future and build the next generation of retail leaders. We spoke to Katz about her career path, her new role as NRF Foundation Board Chair and her advice for those looking to find success in retail.
Share the path you took to becoming CEO of the Neiman Marcus Group. What was the moment that made you realize retail was the industry for you?
When I graduated from college, I was at the proverbial fork in the road: Do I go to graduate school or do I go to work? I applied to Harvard Business School and wasn’t accepted. I also applied to the Executive Development Programs at Foley’s (now Macy’s) and Neiman Marcus. Foley’s accepted me and Neiman Marcus did not. I guess you can say retail chose me. I went to work at Macy’s, eventually becoming a buyer. At the same time, I earned my MBA.
To be successful in retailing, you truly exercise every skill. It’s analytical and strategic. It’s creative and dynamic. It’s a business based on relationships — with your employees, your suppliers and, most importantly, your customers. Few industries give you the opportunity to elevate your interpersonal, communication and leadership skills, giving you the ability to connect with people from all walks of life. Retailing is always changing and evolving. I am continually learning, even now! It’s also an industry that has been revolutionized by technology and transformed by e-commerce. Innovation is as much a part of retailing today as merchandising, supply chain and logistics, marketing and customer service.
Looking ahead, what are the biggest challenges — and opportunities — the retail industry will face in the coming years?
Retailing is being buffeted by many profound forces — whether it’s the proliferation of technology and the pace of change or the need to respond quickly to the ways the customer wants to shop now. I do believe that in these challenges also lie incredible opportunities requiring agile minds and innovation. And yet, we cannot forget that the customer is at the center of what we do as retailers. If you have a customer, there is always, always an opportunity.
“The customer is at the center of what we do as retailers. If you have a customer, there is always, always an opportunity.”Karen Katz
As the newly elected chair of the NRF Foundation Board of Directors, how do you plan to continue to grow the impact the Foundation has on shaping retail’s future? What are you most excited about?
Retailing has been such a rewarding career for me. In my 35+ years in this industry, I have held many different jobs and leadership roles that exercised and developed a myriad of skills — some I knew I had and others I didn’t. Retailing has afforded me so many challenging and extraordinary opportunities. As an industry, we need talented and innovative minds to sustain the momentum. Through programs like RISE Up and the NRF Foundation’s scholarships, we have the power to do that! It’s very exciting to lead toward the future and to execute a vision.
Were there any women in the industry who inspired or mentored you throughout your career? What advice do you have for young women interested in advancing in retail?
I have been lucky in that I have worked for and with so many talented people during my career. Rather than singling out one person, I prefer to explain my experience as “the right person guided and counseled me at the right time in my career.” I have always stayed open to advice and receptive to coaching. To anyone, I also say, “Stay curious.” Keep learning. Keep trying new things. Keep thinking about problems in new ways. Never accept the status quo. If you do that, you will be successful in retailing and in life.
What is the last book you read that you would recommend?
“Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance.
Retail’s leading ladies
Neiman Marcus CEO Karen Katz says retail is “one of the few industries that, for a number of decades, has had female leaders.” Watch as Katz, The Container Store President Melissa Rieff and small business owner Cristina Lynch proudly discuss their roles within the retail industry in Texas.