NEW YORK — As a teenager growing up in the Depression, Ira Neimark was hungry for a job, and for success.
“I read Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People,’ when I was 15. It had an influence on me,” Neimark said over lunch at Patroon here.
He’s looking back at his charmed career, which took him from a precocious doorboy at Bonwit Teller to chief executive officer of Bergdorf Goodman, aka “the benevolent dictator,” for 17 years. He was fueled by early ambition, being mentored and being in the right place at the right time. Being a dropout at Erasmus High School in Brooklyn was no impediment.
“At my age, I am taking it easy,” said the 93-year-old Neimark. Not entirely. He’s just finished his fourth book, entitled the “Rise of Bergdorf Goodman and the Fall of Bonwit Teller; Triumph and Tragedy on Fifth Avenue,” (GamePlan Press). And tonight, he’s celebrating with a launch party at Bergdorf’s, the emporium he catapulted in the Seventies and Eighties into one of the world’s most fashionable and elegant stores.
Neimarks’ book is a compendium of his most pivotal experiences and memorable moments during his 53 years in retailing, like the day he saw Salvador Dali smash a Bonwit Teller window display involving his work because he didn’t like it. Or when, as a Bonwit doorboy, he placed racing bets for beauticians in the beauty salon with the local bookie based on tips from customers. In Army training during World War II, Neimark visited major retailers in every city he was stationed at, from St. Louis to Boca Raton, Fla., so he could keep abreast of retailing and report his observations back to his boss at Bonwit’s.
Neimark’s book contains scores of newspaper clips and photos chronicling both retail nameplates, and there’s another “lessons learned” section, which many of his readers, particularly students, like most about his quartet of tomes.
His first book, “Crossing Fifth Avenue to Bergdorf Goodman,” was about his life and career rise. His second book, “The Rise of Fashion and Lessons Learned at Bergdorf Goodman,” is more about the rise of fashion and how Bergdorf’s capitalized on it. His third book, “A Retailer’s Lifetime of Lessons Learned” is a soft cover that business students can put in their pockets, Neimark said. “My latest book is a culmination of all those books and shows how Bonwit Teller lost it all, and how Bergdorf Goodman gained it all. It explains why Bonwit Teller failed. One of the reasons was opening branch stores very fast. Another reasons was having 12 ceos in 20 years. It became a very confused issue. Proper ownership, proper management, proper leadership — these qualities are required in any business. Bergdorf Goodman, on the other hand, had tremendous family ownership,great management, and if I may say so myself, great leadership.”
He considers his two biggest accomplishment as opening the Bergdorf’s men’s store 25 years ago and elevating Bergdorf Goodman’s women’s store.
Does Neimark have another book in him? “This is it. I’ve told the whole story. There’s no more to tell. I consider myself a very fortunate guy, mainly because of all the wonderful people I’ve worked with to achieve my objectives.”