PHILADELPHIA — The URBN Center Annex on the Drexel University campus was packed with students and industry insiders on Wednesday as Macy’s Inc. chairman and chief executive officer Terry J. Lundgren visited the university to receive the third annual Westphal Award.

This story first appeared in the May 30, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

One of Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design’s highest honors, the Westphal Award honors a leader in the fields of design, media and arts. Previous winners include Burberry ceo Angela Ahrendts and Neiman Marcus fashion director Ken Downing. Lundgren was also deemed the 2014 Design & Merchandising Distinguished Speaker.

After touring Drexel’s URBN Center and Westphal College’s Fox Historic Costume Collection, Lundgren was introduced to fashion and design students by Roberta Gruber, department head, Fashion, Product Design and Design & Merchandising, and Allen Sabinson, dean of the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. “When Terry speaks, the fashion world listens,” said Gruber. Sabinson seconded that sentiment, saying, “Being an amazing, all-around altruistic human being, we can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award than Terry.”

After accepting the award, Lundgren regaled the students with tales of how he helped Macy’s grow into the 800-store retail behemoth it is today. He discussed the overarching strategy behind Macy’s success, summing it up to be solidly focused on tailoring merchandise to the wants of local customers, taking an omnichannel approach to retail (“Being able to touch things is our biggest advantage over Amazon”), and offering an optimal shopping experience to the customers. But it was when he mentioned that capturing the Millennial market is crucial to Macy’s future success that he garnered the full attention of the audience.

“You are the biggest population in the world,” he said. “Today, you’re not the biggest in numbers, but one day you will be. Your careers will progress, and you’ll need to buy things. Buy things Macy’s sell,” he said.

Lundgren’s lecture was followed by a Q&A session. He gave advice on succeeding in the industry, saying, “There are people who are good at fashion, but unless you can understand the business side of things, you won’t be around for very long.”

Asked about the importance of mentors, he entertained the crowd with memories of his personal mentor, retail pioneer Stanley Marcus. “I was 37, ceo of Neiman Marcus, and I’d schedule a lunch just so I could bounce strategy ideas off of him. Plus, I needed Stanley to help convince the employees to buy into my ideas,” he laughed.

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