NEW YORK — “I came from a small world in the Tristate area. I thought I would live there forever.”
So said Neva L. Hall, the executive vice president of Neiman Marcus Stores, as she addressed the 2015 graduating class of LIM College during the commencement exercise at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center here on Tuesday.
It was fashion retailing that lifted Hall out of her comfort zone and gave her a broader perspective on life and a wide variety of job experiences, from being a buyer to a public relations manager, to general merchandise manager and a senior stores executive.
“I am thankful for the path my life took,” said Hall. “I have traveled the world, seen many great cities, attended fashion shows in Europe and New York – too many to mention. But I am mostly thankful for my family and the support I have been given over the years,” she said.
Her message to the 500 graduates was that during her 40 years in fashion retailing, including 32 at Neiman’s, she made the most of each assignment, which inevitably paid off. “My good fortune came from hard work…no magic, no shortcuts. I also had plenty of disappointments along the way, but I learned to grow where I was planted each time.” Almost every time she was offered a job or a promotion, Hall said she was really after something different. “But in the end, each position contributed to my growth and propelled me to where I am today.”
Hall, who oversees the 41 Neiman Marcus stores, Neiman’s food services and store operations, received the LIM College Distinguished Achievement Award and an honorary Doctor of Commercial Science degree at the ceremony.
A graduate of LIM’s Class of 1974, Hall gave the students a short guide to succeeding at work and in life, which she called “Neva’s Nine.”
Her first piece of advice – find a mentor. “Learn from someone who has found success…who has great leadership qualities, who is thoughtful and willing to have a mentee. Retailing icon Stanley Marcus was a relentless merchant and marketer and my first mentor at Neiman Marcus. He wrote notes to me after each promotion and sent Christmas gifts. More than anything, he shared his latest thoughts on retailing, coached me on how to think about business and invested in many of us long after he retired.”
Marcus and other mentors, Hall said, reinforced that “retailing is mass minutiae. You make and keep your customers by remembering the details. In all things in life, the details matter.”
Rule number eight was on making choices. “Weigh opinions, factor the options, but in the end you always have to make the decision that is best for you.”
Her next rule was, “Work hard on the job you have, even if it’s not what you want. Upon graduating from LIM, I set my heart to work for a big department store in the area. I applied. I didn’t get accepted and I was crestfallen. LIM worked with me and I found a job in a specialty retail chain. I gained experience managing small stores and becoming an assistant buyer. That path was the right one for me. I went on to work for Macy’s for six years,” and later Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman’s.
Rule number six was to accept one’s mistakes. “The sooner you come clean, admit your mistakes, ask forgiveness and go back to working hard, it all passes.”
Rule number five: Embrace change, Hall said. “As Millennials, you are hardwired for change. Given how the world is changing through technology and communication…We live in a Wikipedia world where everything is a Google away, which ultimately makes our lives more efficient and immediate.
“There are countless examples of companies not evolving and they are no longer with us. Neiman Marcus is a thriving luxury company. We were built on exceptional customer service, we continue to stay maniacally focused on service while we innovate and change. We have embraced technology.” Hall noted that all selling associates now have iPhones for customer service. “The sales associates who have quickly embraced this change and have mastered iPhones are our most successful sellers to date.”
Hall also advised the graduates to “think creatively, keep it all in perspective and learn to laugh at yourself, and follow your passion. Never make money your focus. It won’t bring you happiness in the job or in life. Love what you do – the profession you choose.”
Hall’s number-one rule was to be thankful. “Always remember to give thanks to the people that support you. Start with your family and repeat with anyone who has helped you, guided you or taught you.”