Robert Friedman, 82, a longtime May Co. executive who served as president and chief executive officer of both L.S. Ayres and Famous-Barr Co., died Thursday at Horizon Hospice at Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee.
The cause of death was cancer, according to his son Dan, president of global sourcing and international at Brown Shoe Co.
Friedman was born in Brooklyn in 1931 and received a bachelor of science degree in business/merchandising from City College. After graduation, he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
After serving two years, Friedman became an assistant buyer at the Boston Store in Milwaukee, where he worked for four years and met his wife, Carole, a cosmetics sales clerk who was attending Marquette University. They were married in 1958.
Friedman rose through the retail ranks, buying women’s apparel for such stores as Davison’s in Atlanta, Wallace’s Department Store in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Pomeroy’s in Harrisburg, Pa., before joining Lit Bros. in Philadelphia as general merchandise manager. David Mullen, then president of Washington-based Woodward & Lothrop, recruited him to join W&L as a general merchandise manager. Friedman later moved to Washington-based Hecht Co., a division of The May Co., which launched his May Co. career. He worked for May Co.-Cleveland, returned to Hecht as executive vice president in 1987 and, when May bought Associated Dry Goods, became president and ceo of L.S. Ayres, based in Indianapolis. He later became president and ceo of Famous-Barr in St. Louis until 1991. He then consulted for several apparel firms, including Kasper and Tahari ASL before retiring in 2002.
“He was very well-liked and very aggressive. If he believed in something, he went for it. He made things happen,” said Arthur S. Levine, owner and partner of Tahari ASL.
“He was a great, driving merchant,” said John Henderson, an industry consultant. “He really built the footwear and women’s suit business at May Co.”
In addition to his wife and his son Dan, Friedman is survived by two other children, Ellen Ruble and another son, Michael, and seven grandchildren.