DALLAS — Terry J. Lundgren was a student at the University of Arizona when he realized that veterinary science wasn’t for him and switched to a double major in business and psychology.
After graduating, Lundgren, now chairman, president and chief executive officer of Federated Department Stores, was recruited in 1975 by retail dynamo Allen Questrom, then senior vice president of Bullocks, who persuaded him to join the department store as a trainee and assistant buyer, even though Lundgren was leaning toward a more lucrative position in management training and sales at Xerox.
The chief of the largest U.S. department store chain — the first person in his immediate family to get a college degree — fondly remembers the university and is determined to help develop future merchants at his alma mater. Lundgren said in an interview that he has given an unspecified amount of money — “more than I’ve ever donated to anything in my entire life” — to the school, which last year renamed its retail center the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing.
“The support I received during my time at the University of Arizona, the ultimate education and the experience meant a lot to me, and on reflection, I wanted to give something back to the school,” Lundgren said. “UA became fertile ground for talent in our organization, and, given the fact that they are really trying to step up the retail program, I wanted to get involved.”
Lundgren joined Arizona’s board of trustees in 1999 and got involved in the retail program and fund-raising at the request of university president Peter Likins. He has received an honorary doctorate, delivered a commencement address and visits the school in Tucson a couple of times a year to meet with students and faculty.
He will be a keynote speaker at the university’s Global Retailing Conference March 30-31 at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa in Tucson, part of a powerhouse lineup that includes Tommy Hilfiger; Tom Murry, president and chief operating office of Calvin Klein Inc.; Glenn Lyon, president of Finish Line, an athletic shoe retailer, and top executives from FedEx, Kinko’s, Microsoft Corp. and Home Depot.
Having Lundgren’s name over the door has raised the retail center’s profile, said Melinda Burke, director of the program. Founded in 1993 with assistance from J.C. Penney, Macy’s, Sears and Wal-Mart, the center has 25 retail partners that help fund it and consult on the curriculum.
Other universities, such as Southern Methodist and Texas A&M, also have retail centers, but Arizona is among a handful of schools — including Purdue, Michigan State and Texas Tech — that award a bachelor’s degree in retailing.
“That’s what’s particularly appealing to us, getting young people who are already serious about a career in retailing,” Lundgren said. “I’ve been very impressed with the talent and people. I’ve been involved in recruiting students myself, and we’ve attracted students this last go-round from the University of Arizona not only to Macy’s West but to the Merchandise Group … We need to make sure we are always getting the cream of the crop.”
The university has 350 to 400 students pursuing degrees in retailing, each selected after completing three semesters of required courses in business, accounting and statistics, and achieving a minimum grade point average of 2.6, Burke said.
The program is distinguished by its emphasis on learning by experience, said Eric Arnould, research director at the center.
“Any student who graduates has had serious internship experience,” he said. “They don’t just get a pass. They have to have evidence that they have learned something, and it’s wrapped around a course.”
Through independent study, students have total responsibility for running The A Store, a shop in Tucson Mall that sells UA gear, he said.
“We only started it a year ago and have doubled its size,” Arnould added.
Noting that the usually high energy in the department was one of the reasons he joined the faculty last August, Arnould said graduates working for top retailers often return to recruit.
“There is a nonstop revolving door of firms coming through here begging for students to take jobs,” Arnould said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. They are here practically every week looking for students.”
Dennis Razon, a senior in retailing, said the curriculum provides a depth of training. “You learn every aspect of retailing, from consumer behavior to marketing, brand development, brand equity, e-commerce and global economics,” Razon said. “I’m able to understand the industry with it.”