Jim Gold, president and chief merchandising officer of the Neiman Marcus Group, is leaving the luxury retailer in March, WWD has learned.
During nearly three decades at NMG, Gold introduced and built distribution with numerous luxury businesses, among them Tom Ford, Goyard, Moncler, Prada, Theory and Brunello Cucinelli. He gave Bergdorf Goodman a contemporary edge, wrote the original business plan for NMG’s Last Call off-price business, and integrated the merchandising and planning teams of Neiman’s stores and direct-to-consumer operations, among other accomplishments.
“It’s been an incredible journey for my family and myself,” Gold told WWD. “After 28 years with the same company, and the opportunity to be deeply involved in every part of the business, it’s time for a new business challenge. I’m turning 55 in a few weeks and I still have lots of energy and 10 solid years left to try something new. So it’s either now or never.”
“During his 28 years with NMG, Jim has embodied the Neiman Marcus brand values established by Stanley Marcus — customer service, brand partnership and creative merchandising,” said NMG’s chief executive officer Geoffroy van Raemdonck. “His contributions will leave a lasting impact on our brand both through the enduring brand partnerships he developed as well as the talented team he helped build.”
Gold will stay with the company until Neiman’s first New York City store, in Hudson Yards, opens on March 15. “We have put blood, sweat and tears into this store. It doesn’t get bigger than New York City,” said Gold. “We had to get it right. I’m very proud to say that we have an incredible brand and product lineup, the store is beautiful and it is filled with fun surprises.
“I intentionally have not pursued any opportunities yet because I want to be able to give the company 100 percent until my very last day,” Gold added. “Once I leave, I will take some time to be with my extremely supportive wife and family, and then turn my attention to exploring new opportunities.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Gold described himself as “a consumer guy,” adding, “Even though I come out of luxury retailing, I have a curiosity and interest in all kinds of brands, categories and retail formats, regardless of size or price-positioning. It’s important that I share the values of the company, that the company has high aspirations, and that I feel I can help make a real difference in its results.”
Gold’s departure comes at a critical juncture for NMG, as van Raemdonck, who has been the retailer’s ceo since February 2018, remakes the management. Over the last several months, van Raemdonck appointed Darcy Penick president of Bergdorf’s; named Adam Orvis executive vice president, chief financial officer and chief operating officer; promoted Carrie Tharp to executive vice president and chief digital officer, and named Stefanie Tsen senior vice president of omnichannel customer experiences. Several merchants at Neiman’s and Bergdorf’s were reassigned with new responsibilities, and last week, Neva Hall, the company’s executive vice president of stores, said she’s retiring after 35 years with the firm.
In addition, the $4.9 billion NMG needs to restructure its debt. A $2.8 billion term loan comes due in October 2020 and in 2021, a $1.6 billion unsecured bond comes due.
“It’s no secret that we are a highly leveraged company,” Gold said. “However, we’ve operated with a high degree of leverage for over a decade. It poses challenges, but it also forces the company to allocate resources in a very thoughtful manner. As a private equity controlled company, we gain access to very smart and experienced partners as we work through complex issues. The company is working on amending and extending the debt. Our private equity owners and management are deeply involved in that right now.”
Gold outlined other challenges, some coming as a consequence of technology and the Internet. “Competition has grown exponentially,” he said. “There has been tremendous product proliferation and all retailers face ever-increasing operational demands. Technology is a blessing and a curse. The business is infinitely more complex than it used to be, but at the same time, the possibilities of what we can do to serve our customers are greater than ever. What is clear is that strong brands and companies like the Neiman Marcus Group will get stronger; others will struggle to survive. Thanks to our commissioned sales force which is digitally enabled, and the fact that we were the first luxury retailer to enter e-commerce 20 years ago, we have a business that is incredibly balanced between brick-and-mortar and digital commerce. We are much less reliant on foot traffic than most retailers. Today we have an e-commerce business that represents over 30 percent of our sales.”
Gold inherited the retail bug from his family. His grandfather ran leased accessory departments in a 12-unit chain of women’s clothing stores in Oklahoma called Streets. His father was with Macy’s New York for 20 years where he rose to general merchandise manager of the home store and later launched the Accessory Lady chain, which he eventually sold to the former Melville Corp.
“Summer jobs and talk around the dinner table was always about retailing,” Gold said.
Right after college, Gold, a native New Yorker, got married and joined Bloomingdale’s executive training program and became an assistant buyer in men’s accessories and women’s fine apparel, and later, department manager in women’s sportswear. After three years at Bloomingdale’s, he worked at Simon Properties in leasing. He also once had a summer job with Gilbert Harrison at Financo Inc.
Gold went on to Harvard Business School, got an MBA, and his father encouraged him to apply at Neiman Marcus. He was interviewed by then-ceo Terry J. Lundgren who later became ceo of Macy’s Inc. Generally, retail ceo’s don’t conduct interviews at the level where Gold was applying, but Lundgren wanted to meet Gold since he had an MBA. “It wasn’t very typical for Neiman Marcus to hire an MBA at the time,” said Gold. “Terry convinced me to come to Neiman Marcus and promised he would personally mentor me. Terry can be very convincing.”
Gold joined NMG in 1991 as manager of trim-a-tree at the NorthPark store in Dallas. “It was fun being in the store. Christmas in Dallas is a big deal. It was a great way to learn the Neiman Marcus culture, which was very different from a Bloomingdale’s store. The sales associates and store management had a much stronger voice at Neiman’s than I experienced at Bloomingdale’s. There were much stronger values around service. To be a successful merchant at Neiman’s meant understanding what the stores were all about.”
Gold rose up the ranks, advancing to buyer, divisional merchandise manager and gmm of the Neiman Marcus division. At one time, Burt Tansky, then-NMG ceo who championed Gold’s career, told him to write a business plan and build an off-price division. “It was really fun to have such an entrepreneurial experience within a large corporation. Within three years, we built Last Call into a $125 million division with 10 stores,” Gold said.
In 2004, Tansky asked Gold, then senior vice president and gmm for men’s wear and cosmetics at Neiman’s, to be president and ceo of Bergdorf’s, a stretch from being a gmm dealing with products to a ceo dealing with all the aspects of a business, from people development to setting the vision. “I had just turned 40 and had no idea what I was getting into,” Gold admitted.
But he figured it out. At Bergdorf’s, Gold said sales doubled, profits tripled, important brands were introduced, the store underwent a top-to-bottom renovation, the BG restaurant opened, and “endless” fashion shows, book signings, product launches and music events were staged for everyone from Madonna to Tom Ford, Meryl Streep, Victoria Beckham, the Olsen Twins and Mariah Carey.
“When I was running Bergdorf Goodman, there were a series of important advanced brands that Barneys had locked up and we didn’t have. It was a huge miss, so we went after them very aggressively. We didn’t have Prada. We didn’t have Balenciaga or Goyard, Lanvin, Dries Van Noten, Rick Owens. We were more focused on uptown women. But I thought for the store to be great, we needed to have one foot uptown and one foot downtown. We went after the brands Barneys had a real stronghold on — very aggressively. We created a much more diverse and compelling assortment.…My most memorable day was in 2007 when Bergdorf’s reached $500 million in sales.”
His least memorable time was when the financial markets collapsed at the end of 2008. “Our sales fell by nearly 30 percent,” Gold said. “We sadly had no option but to do layoffs and everyone was frightened about their future, the future of our company and the future of our country. It was the ultimate test of leadership and required a heavy mix of decisiveness, confidence, hugs and hand holding. It was a very dark period, but we emerged with our heads held high and our culture and business intact.”
He returned to Dallas in 2010 as president and chief merchandising officer of NMG and soon orchestrated the integration of the merchandising and planning teams of Neiman’s stores and direct-to-consumer businesses.
“This was a highly complex change that took several years and required a large investment in systems,” said Gold. “Virtually all roles and processes were touched. It was painful at times, but it set us up to create an eco-system that would allow us to drive revenue, optimize customer service and efficiently manage our inventory. Today we have an e-commerce business that represents over 30 percent of our sales.”
The process culminated with the installation of the NMG One enterprise-wide system that allowed the company to have a single view of its products across the divisions. “It was difficult,” Gold acknowledged. “We were replacing systems that were 30 years old. It’s complicated even with a monobrand. With a department store, you’re talking about thousands of brands. The data migration is extraordinarily complex. It was very challenging and rocky,” as vendors began missing orders and data, disrupting the business. “But we got through it and we’re so much better off for having done it.
“I’ve always tried to put myself in the shoes of the business partner when working through an opportunity or a challenge to understand what’s important to them. The more you understand, the easier it is to come up with a strategy that’s successful for both parties.”
“We did build a great business with Jim. He’s real direct, challenging, insightful, passionate and creative,” said Andrew Rosen, president of Theory.
Deirdre Quinn, founder and ceo of Lafayette 148, said, “I’ve been doing business with Jim for 23 years. He stuck with us when we were small and later as we got bigger. He just got us. He got the company. Neiman’s is my number-one account. I don’t think it’s goodbye for Jim. We will have a chance to work together again.”
“I have no idea what Jim is going to do next but I’m sure it will be something very forward-thinking and exciting,” said Diane von Furstenberg. “Years ago, I approached Jim to celebrate International Women’s Day at Bergdorf’s. He jumped on it right away. People in Europe had been celebrating it forever, but not in the U.S. Now everybody celebrates International Women’s Day.”
Linda Fargo, Bergdorf’s senior vice president of store presentation and women’s fashion director, noted that Gold during meetings is religious about creating columns, listing the pros and cons, all designed to divine the best solution. “It was signature Jim,” said Fargo. “Most importantly, Jim saw where Bergdorf’s was losing ground in relevance and he sought to modernize our brand matrix. He brought back Prada, introduced Dries Van Noten, Goyard, Rick Owens, Balenciaga, and was the first retailer to spot potential in The Row, in what was initially just a T-shirt collection. He rebuilt our women’s advanced designer floor to house the new vision, as well as its counterpart in Bergdorf’s men’s store. He was first with the now-common practice of expansive shoe salons, to see the importance of restaurants and the food experience. He was definitively a forerunner in arming the selling organization with technology, anticipating dwindling foot traffic and the new normal with personal devices.”
For the immediate future, Gold will take it easy. “In my 28 years at Neiman’s, I had one two-week vacation. I’m looking forward to having one more two-week vacation, and spending time with my family.
“Luxury today is so different from when I started at Neiman Marcus in 1991. It was like a private club by comparison. There was a very small subset of society that was familiar with luxury brands like Hermès and Chanel. There were no bloggers. But along came mass media and suddenly, hundreds of millions of people around the world became aware of these brands and aspired to have a piece of them. Now it’s an international activity. There is product proliferation and more competition, but we also have hundreds of millions of eyeballs looking at the brands and products we carry. Luxury has never been stronger. In good times and bad times, it never ceases to amaze me there is always someone out there coming up with a great new idea. It’s our job to discover it, nurture it and build it and that’s the beauty of being of multibrand store. We get to scour the world for these creative geniuses. We have a platform that carries more luxury product than any company in the world.”
What Jim Gold Learned From His Mentors
His father Alan Gold: Thanks to my father, I was born on third base in life and in business. Growing up with him was a better education than any business school could ever provide.
Stanley Marcus: How to look at everything through the lens of our customer.
Leonard Lauder: The importance of getting to know the front lines and paying attention to the smallest details, that’s where opportunity lurks.
Steven Silverstein, his first boss at Bloomingdale’s: He taught me the value of hard work. Passion for product. How to really go for it when you believe in certain product.
Burt Tansky: Never underestimate the capacity of the luxury consumer. Product obsession. Setting the highest bar when it comes to a brand’s sales potential. Be demanding, but don’t forget that you also need to hug your people and kiss the babies.
Terry J. Lundgren: The importance for a leader to inspire their people.
Karen Katz: Attention to detail and the importance of self-awareness.