Launching a new generation of retail leaders

The NRF Foundation Student Program fosters opportunities to connect with some of the world’s biggest retail brands
Coordinator, Digital Communications & Marketing

After three days packed with tours and talks, insightful sessions with experienced retail leaders, engaging breakout sessions, executive mentoring and career recruiting opportunities, the NRF Foundation Student Program 2024 has come to an end.

This year 1,125 students, 145 educators, 112 mentors, 40 speakers and over 150 recruiters attended the program at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. A total of 34 companies sponsored the event.

The program kicked off on Friday with a robust schedule featuring some of retail’s brightest leaders sharing insights and knowledge with the next generation of talent. Sessions explored various themes touching on the importance of authenticity, agility, flexibility and grit.

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Julie Averill
Julie Averill,
chief technology officer at lululemon

‘Trust yourself’

Julie Averill, chief technology officer at lululemon, shared her expert perspective on how technology is transforming the retail landscape. She delved into Lululemon’s three-pillar growth strategy and offered sound advice to students who are in the early stages of navigating their career.

"Trust yourself,” Averill said, noting that would be the advice she would give her younger self. “Allow yourself to be creative. Allow yourself to open doors as they come to you, because they will come to you — and where you are right now, you can’t predict what those doors are.”

Libby Edelman offered similar advice. In a conversation with New York Fashion Week creator Fern Mallis, Edelman shared invaluable experiences from her 45-year career that has included co-founding Sam & Libby, Sam Edelman and Circus NY by Sam Edelman with her husband and life-long business partner Sam Edelman.

Edelman also offered her best piece of career advice to the students. “Know who you are and stick with it,” she said.

AI and the hiring process

Paradox Vice President of Marketing and Client Advocacy Josh Secrest joined Nordstrom Head of Early in Career Talent Vicky Hidalgo and 7-Eleven Inc. Senior Project Manager of Talent Acquisition Operations Ashley Carter for a timely conversation on “Landing a Job in the Age of AI.” The leaders shared tips and insider information on how to account for AI tools when applying for jobs and internships. The group also offered insights on how recruiters recognize applicants’ use of artificial intelligence, and pointed out the challenge students face in their inability to respond as quickly as technologies can move during the recruiting process.

They also encouraged the students to showcase “you” in this time of AI — it’s important to come off as your genuine self during the interview stages of recruiting, they said, and not rely on AI-generated scripts.

“Although it might be a perfect answer,” Hidalgo said, “if we can’t feel that you are coming off as genuinely you, that will be something that we will pay attention to.”

The power of agility

PetSmart Chief Merchandising Officer Kristin Shane joined the keynote stage after lunch to discuss the secrets to successful merchandising and how crucial is it to be agile in an industry of constant change.

Shane offered a look into PetSmart’s own merchandising strategy, sharing key lessons and takeaways for students to understand as they begin their careers across the industry. It all comes down to a key focal point, which is an individual’s, a team’s and a retailer’s ability to be agile in the face of digital innovation and the evolving customer.

NRF Foundation Student Program

“Be agile,” Shane said. “Be willing to pivot, be willing to make changes, be willing to follow the customer, be willing to say, ‘We didn’t get it right, we are going to try something else.’”

The NRF Foundation rounds out programming Sunday night with the NRF Foundation Honors, celebrating retail professionals who are sparking innovation and inspiring incredible change, as well as the industry’s rising stars – including the recipient of the Next Generation Scholarship, who will receive a $25,000 prize, and the top team in the University Challenge, which will receive $30,000.

The Honors also recognizes The Visionary 2024, Dick’s Sporting Goods Executive Chairman Ed Stack, The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future and the RISE Up Partner of the Year, Dublin City Schools.

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