In his mission to transform Neiman Marcus Group to “a customer-centric luxury platform,” chief executive officer Geoffroy van Raemdonck has fulfilled phase one — remaking the management.Four of Van Raemdonck’s eight direct reports are new; there are six new senior vice presidents, and three other executives were promoted to senior vice president, all over the last several months.
“If we really want to evolve, we need to bring in new talent and people to foster a different level of innovation. Our team now is quite different,” van Raemdonck told WWD exclusively.
In the latest changes disclosed Monday, David Goubert was named executive vice president of stores and retail experience, reporting directly to van Raemdonck, and Ginger Mollo was named senior vice president, West Coast retail experience to create customer engagement tools and events. She reports to Goubert.
Goubert was senior vice president of the luxury cruise lines at Starboard Cruise Services, a division of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, where he spent 20 years, for a time serving as senior vice president and regional director at Louis Vuitton. Mollo spent 18 years at Apple, holding senior roles in the stores division and most recently serving as global lead for advancing the Apple store culture and developing an “elite” sales team and training tools.
Among other recent key changes: Adam Orvos became NMG’s chief financial officer; at Bergdorf Goodman, Darcy Penick, became president and Matt Marcotte became chief operating officer; Stefanie Tsen became senior vice president of omnichannel customer experience, and Carrie Tharp was promoted to executive vice president, chief digital officer.
“If you look at all those people, all have a track record of driving performance and change. They all come from companies that are fundamentally very customer-centric and drive innovation through digital capabilities,” said van Raemdonck. “All of them embrace change and know how to deal with ambiguity and they act fast. The people we have hired are not afraid to fail. If they fail, they fail fast and we use that for learning.”
In the exclusive interview outlining the changes and his philosophy on management, van Raemdonck, who has been NMG’s ceo since February 2018, stressed that he’s reshaping the team so it’s collaborative and charged with elevating the $4.9 billion Neiman Marcus Group to be more customer-centric, seamless across channels, and “experiential,” a term widely used by industry leaders bent on catering to increasingly demanding shoppers.
He spoke of Neiman’s “incredible DNA of service and innovation…We invented some really cool things through our history – the gift card, the loyalty program, fortnights. We were the first luxury store to launch online.
“Innovation is driven from the top,” he added. “It should be on the agenda of the ceo and everybody who reports to the ceo. At some companies, including ours, innovation was walled off and encapsulated into a small team. It shouldn’t be like that.”
As reported last week, Jim Gold, NMG’s president and chief merchandising officer, will leave the company on March 15, the same day the Neiman’s store at Hudson Yards in Manhattan opens. It will be the retailer’s 43rd full-line store and first in New York City. Neva Hall, the company’s executive vice president of stores, is also leaving the company that day. They are both NMG veterans.
The extent of the changes permeating management is radical for NMG, a company with a history of minimal senior-level turnover. It reflects a willingness to recruit from outside the traditional department store pool of talent, from the likes of Apple, Shopbop and Sephora.
It’s also a sign that despite Neiman’s financial issues, i.e. its heavy debt, and despite no longer being the clear retail leader in luxury, the Dallas-based company still has the cache and potential to grow and evolve, to draw some fresh talent.
“I can not tell you what the ultimate customer experience is but I can tell you I know what direction we are going in and where we are going to iterate and learn,” van Raemdonck said.
“It’s very arrogant to think we know what the customer wants better than the customer herself. But what consumers are asking for today is for something that is personal and what’s right for her, and they’re also saying ‘make it channel agnostic.’ The channels are blurring. We don’t think about stores or online. We think about customer experience across those innovations. Understanding technology and digital – that’s really the way things become more magic.”
While Neiman’s digital operation has grown to account for about a third of the corporation’s total volume, van Raemdonck emphasized, “the hiring of Ginger, David and Matt shows the commitment we have in stores.”
It’s not merely about selling products anymore, said the ceo. “We’re here to provide an experience the customer will embrace – what would delight the customer. The customer doesn’t need anything from us. But they want things and we need to meet that desire. That’s what our new store at Hudson Yards will be all about – providing physical and digital and intimate experiences in a way not seen at other stores. We believe stores are a key component of the experience but we believe the experience is really a digitally-empowered customer centric experience. We’re not looking at stores as a physical space but rather as a place to enhance an omnichannel experience.”
Van Raemdonck said that he will find someone to succeed Gold but that the role will be different. “We’re looking to evolve that role for someone who is going to have an integrated view of the customer and make sure all elements — products, fashion, marketing, creative, brands — come together. It’s a very customer-centric way to think about it. We are currently looking internally and externally” at candidates.
Acumen in merchandising, van Raemdonck suggested, won’t be sacrificed with how he’s reshaping the chief merchant’s job. He cited greater bench strength in the merchant ranks in the aftermath of a few recent promotions. Melissa Lowenkron, formerly with Bergdorf’s, joined Neiman Marcus as general merchandise manager of accessories, ladies shoes, handbags, designer jewelry and precious jewels. Lisa Kazor added fine apparel to her responsibilities, becoming general merchandise manager for all of women’s apparel. Russ Patrick continues as general merchandise manager of men’s, children’s and home. Beauty, which had been reporting directly to Gold, will be reassigned after his departure.
“We are going to recruit best-in-class leaders but we are also committed to promoting people internally. It’s very important for an organization to show that there is a career path,” said van Raemdonck.
“The Cliffnote of the message I want to convey is that we’re transforming the Neiman Marcus Group into a luxury customer platform that’s all about a personal customer experience, seamless and magical,” added van Raemdonck. “You get there by hiring and promoting the best talent. You can not deliver the right experience if you don’t have best-in-class leaders and if you do not focus on the customer experience and innovating that experience.”
Most of NMG’s senior positions are filled. However, “There are some capabilities we are continuing to build in data analytics and artificial intelligence and technology to make the experience more personal. We are actively recruiting in those areas,” van Raemdonck said.
The influx of talent, he said, reflects confidence in the business. “All of the people we hired are entrusting their career into what the vision of what Neiman Marcus can be. Our business has a great future.”
One executive who won’t be replaced is Scott Emmons, who in January vacated his position as head of Neiman Marcus iLab — a department he founded in 2012 to drive retail innovation through technology. He joined retail consultancy TheCurrent Global as chief technology officer. “It doesn’t need to be filled,” said van Raemdonck, explaining, “All the leaders I have mentioned have innovation capabilities — the difference is that innovation doesn’t come out of one box. It’s multiple boxes that drive innovation.”