When Alida Hemery met Burt Tansky as a divisional merchandise manager, she knew he wouldn't be long for the job.
"He came to Saks with one specific purpose: His goal was to become president. I could sense it. He had a goal in mind and he was going to pursue that goal," she says.
Tansky was president for a decade, working at different times under three Saks Fifth Avenue chief executive officers, like always being the bridesmaid, never the bride. But when he left Saks to head up Bergdorf Goodman, fulfilling his ultimate goal of being the man in charge, he took Hemery with him to his new assignment, and never let go of his trusted assistant. She even relocated to Dallas with him, when he was promoted from running Bergdorf's to running the Neiman Marcus chain in Dallas. Hemery and Tansky have been a team for more than three decades.
"When I first met Burt, I was very impressed," says the Colombian-born Hemery, who came to the U.S. as a child. "We sort of connected very well from the very start back in the early Seventies. I was at Saks and he came shortly after I started. I was working for the store manager. Burt had an assistant for about a year, who left. Then I was recommended to him by someone in the company. I interviewed with him, but I had already met him in passing. I wanted to work with him. I wanted to learn from him. I could tell by the way he spoke to me, by the way he felt about the company, that he was very much interested in growing the company. He was very focused about the merchandise, about quality, customer service, the look of the stores. His mind was involved in everything. Even as a divisional, he was very, very focused. I knew that he was a very talented person. I knew right away he would get very far.
"One thing that struck me: His mind worked like a computer. He could look at a report and pick up the important information and it would all stay in his memory. He wouldn't have to look at it again. It was sort of copied into his brain. Whether it was his immediate boss or the ceo, he would have an answer right away. He is incredible with numbers."
She was also struck by his fascination with product, particularly shoes. "He loves to touch the merchandise, to see the construction, the quality. That's so innate to him. He can grab a pair of shoes and pick up on the size of the heel, the height, how it's constructed. He just loves shoes. He likes to see a woman dressed from head to toe. To him, shoes are always enhancing to a woman. At Bergdorf 's, Manolo Blahnik was a very good business. When we came to Dallas, the business was very small," but Tansky changed that, she says. "Wherever he saw an opportunity, he would run with it. He didn't waste any time growing the company."
On the personal side, "He would do all kinds of things for me. I love bagels. When I lived in New York, every day I would have a bagel. That was difficult to give up when I moved to Dallas. But when Burt came back from a trip to New York, he would bring me bagels. Rita [his wife] and Burt both love bagels.
"We had a very special relationship. He's been my boss, my mentor, a very special friend to me and my family. He was more than a boss. I have been able to learn so much from him, about life, about business, about retail. He would say, 'Rita is my wife at home. Alida is my wife at the office.' Between the two of us, we took care of him."
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