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Laurie Black, one of the highest-profile and most influential retailers in the U.S. beauty market, has decided to call it a career after 35 years with Nordstrom Inc.
Black, 53, will step down April 1 as executive vice president and general merchandise manager of cosmetics at Nordstrom. “We are sad that she is retiring, but we are happy that she is able to do it on her own terms,” said Pete Nordstrom, president of merchandising at Nordstrom.
Black is being succeeded by Gemma Lionello, a 25-year veteran of Nordstrom who is now the regional manager for the 22 stores in Nordstrom’s South region. She will assume her new role April 1.
Nordstrom has been Black’s career. She started as a salesperson in the hosiery department in 1978. “I’ve worked for Nordstrom for 35 years and haven’t done anything else,” she said Monday afternoon, adding, “I want to spend more time with my family, make some contributions in the community where I live [Seattle] and maybe work on some boards.”
Black moved through a series of buying and regional positions until being named vice president and corporate merchandise manager of the women’s specialized, accessories and gifts divisions in 1999. In 2001 she was named president of Nordstrom Rack, where she made her mark and laid the foundation for the division’s growth by demonstrating that the top-selling brands in the regular stores could also be the top sellers in the Rack units. In 2006, Black stepped into the large shoes in the beauty sector left by the respected Dale Cameron and took the business to new heights. According to the company, the cosmetics staff drove the division’s sales to a record $1 billion in sales for 2012. Industry sources rank Nordstrom among the top four prestige retailers.
Of her successor, Lionello, Black said, “She’s a doer; she makes things happen,” adding, “We want to be the go-to place for prestige beauty, and she is that person.”
As for Black, Pete Nordstrom described her as a “change agent” who skillfully managed to successfully work with two generations of the Nordstrom family while navigating a period of intense growth in the industry. One of Black’s main contributions, he said, was her ability to innovate and make changes in a vendor-centric business while “making sure the experience was in the best interest of the customers. She was able to get the vendors to come along.” One industry executive noted that Black was an innovative merchant in aligning the process of the business in step with Nordstrom’s original hallmark of customer service.
One example of her “customer first” dictum was instituted two years ago when she cut back and focused the previously indiscriminate profusion of fragrance models on the selling floor. She also started targeting sampling programs using Facebook and Twitter.
Black described the changes as boiling down to a “focus on what the customer wants and what is right for the customer, not what we want to sell to the customer.”
“She followed an iconic merchant and did an outstanding job of transitioning Nordstrom into what it is now,” said John Demsey, a group president at the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.