Retailing is challenged to attract labor and talent, but career opportunities and young folks on a path to success were spotlighted Wednesday at the annual NRF Foundation Honors gala, which raised $3.22 million for scholarships and the foundation’s programs.
The event, held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square and presented by American Express and PwC, drew more than 600 retail executives, including several chief executive officers serving as board members for the National Retail Federation and the NRF Foundation, as well as community partners, scholarship winners and educators.
John Furner, Walmart U.S. president and CEO and the current NRF board chairman, coming off the red carpet, told WWD, “Retail used to be just about being a buyer, a store operator, a marketer or working in the supply chain, and that’s still the core of the business. But there’s so much more there now. You have digital jobs. There’s ESG, roles in health care, financial services, sustainability, even attorneys.”
Macy’s Inc. chairman and CEO Jeff Gennette said aside from scholarships, the money raised from the foundation’s gala also supports NRF’s “Rise Up” program, which provides training and credentials to help people get retail jobs. NRF’s Rise Up program is also about, as Gennette said, “getting the message out there that this is an industry rich with opportunities.”
Gennette, who cohosted the event with former Qurate Retail Inc. president and CEO Mike George, said at Macy’s and other retailers, there’s mobility, that you don’t have to stick with working in one aspect of the business. “We do career lattice planning,” Gennette said. “You can start in merchandising, for example, and end up in marketing.”
Matt Shay, president and CEO of the NRF, said retail executives met with the scholars earlier in the day to discuss career opportunities, and get a read on what’s on their minds. “I am always so incredibly impressed by their poise, their intellect, their passion and curiosity,” Shay said.
“This is such an energetic, inspiring group of young people,” Furner added.
Pro basketball and business icon Earvin “Magic” Johnson presented NRF’s Visionary award to Target chairman and CEO Brian Cornell for spearheading change in the industry.
The evening also recognized NRF’s 2022 “List of People Shaping Retail’s Future.” On the list:
- Five Below Inc. president and CEO Joel Anderson
- McDonald’s Corp. president and CEO Chris Kempczinski
- Former CVS Health executive vice president and former CVS Pharmacy president Neela Montgomery
- Chewy Inc. CEO Sumit Singh
- The RealReal founder and CEO Julie Wainwright
Robert Davison Long of Columbia College Chicago was the top scholarship winner, receiving $25,000, and four other finalists received $10,000 each.
Haley Shannon, Tooba Athar and K-Lynn Ward from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising were recognized as the top team in the 2022 NRF Foundation Student Challenge. Each received a $5,000 scholarship for developing a private label brand concept for Kohl’s embodying inclusivity and equity.
Trevor G. Browne High School in Phoenix was honored as the “Rise Up Partner of the Year” for the school’s innovative use of the foundation’s training and credentialing program. Instructor John-Martin Rigsby accepted the award on stage and was surprised with the $10,000 award to take to his students and help them prepare for careers in retail.
“Thanks to our generous supporters, the NRF Foundation is well-positioned to continue our important work, and to help even more people do better for themselves, their families and their communities,” NRF Foundation executive director Bill Thorne said. “There are so many inspiring stories that I am humbled to share on behalf of the people who have built extraordinary careers with our programs and resources.”