Howard Goldfeder, chairman and chief executive officer of the former Federated Department Stores Inc. for seven years until the company was sold to the Campeau Corporation in 1988, passed away on Nov. 4 at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, California. He was 96.
News of Goldfeder’s death was reported by the Los Angeles Times on Sunday.
Former colleagues characterized Goldfeder as a forceful, bottom-line numbers-oriented executive as well as someone with strong merchant skills, but they also noted that while his tenure was marked by growth at Federated, he left the company vulnerable to being taken over. In the ’80s, Macy’s and Campeau, the Canadian real estate firm, engaged in a fierce bidding war for Federated that lasted for 10 weeks. Macy’s eventually capitulated through a deal with Campeau in which Macy’s would receive $60 million in expenses and take two divisions from Federated while Campeau would acquire the rest of the portfolio for $6.6 billion.
Goldfeder was instrumental in securing the deal, which was a good one for shareholders considering they received $73.50 a share, representing a premium from what the stock had been selling for prior to the transaction, though some observers believe the price could have gone higher.
Immediately upon Campeau’s takeover, Goldfeder retired, and two years later, due to the enormous debt compiled from the Federated deal and the 1986 acquisition of Allied Stores, Campeau was forced to file for bankruptcy.
Allen Questrom, the retired retail veteran who was chairman and CEO of Federated, Macy’s, Barneys New York and J.C. Penney, when he was a general merchandise manager at the Bullock’s chain in California reported to Goldfeder, who was the chairman of Bullock’s at the time. Later, when Goldfeder was running Federated, he promoted Questrom to CEO of Federated’s Rich’s division in Atlanta.
“Howard taught me a different perspective on the business,” said Questrom. “I was always into product and he was into attacking the numbers. I learned a whole new vocabulary….Howard was somewhat intimidating and a very, very challenging person, but I learned a lot from him and stayed friendly with him until he died.”
Federated decades ago once targeted Walmart for acquisition, according to investment banker Gilbert Harrison, chairman of the Harrison Group, and an insider on many deals in the retail and fashion sectors. Harrison said he believes if Federated followed through on buying Walmart, it never would have gone bankrupt and gotten swallowed up by Macy’s. It’s also possible Walmart would never have become the world’s largest retailer, Harrison added.
“Howard was certainly a good merchant and knew the department store business,” said Harrison. “He ran Federated during a difficult period in retailing and unfortunately lost control when Campeau gained control of the company.”
Goldfeder served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He began his long and high-profile career in retailing as an executive trainee at Bloomingdale’s. He rose up the corporate ladder to run regional department store divisions at both the former May Department Stores Co. and Federated, before ultimately rising to CEO of Federated and shortly thereafter, chairman and CEO of Federated. The Los Angeles Times indicated that during Goldfeder’s tenure as CEO, Federated grew from $7.6 billion to $11 billion in annual sales.
Among the survivors listed are Goldfeder’s wife Carole; his two daughters, Carole and Joan, and two grandchildren.