LAWRENCE LACHMAN, 81, WAS FORMER BLOOMINGDALE’S CEO
Byline: David Moin
NEW YORK — Lawrence Lachman, a former Bloomingdale’s chief executive who kept the chain on firm financial footing when it stepped out with costly import extravaganzas and branch openings, died in his sleep from heart failure at home here Monday. He was 81.
Lachman was ceo of Bloomingdale’s from 1964 to 1978. During that period, the chain grew from six stores in the New York area to 15 stores stretching from Boston to Washington, D.C.
For many years before he became ceo, Lachman was a key financial and operations executive at Bloomingdale’s, instrumental in the dramatic transformation of the chain from a promotional operation with a bargain basement in the Forties to a hip, upscale fashion department store in the Sixties.
“This man was a giant in the business,” said Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies for Kurt Salmon Associates and a former Bloomingdale’s merchandiser when Lachman ran the chain.
“He provided the financial and administrative balance that kept Bloomingdale’s a healthy business entity during a period of miraculous growth spawned by merchandise creativity,” Aronson said. “It was his level-headedness, common sense and financial discipline that brought balance to the business. He was the backbone of the store on the support side.”
“Larry made an enormous contribution,” said Marvin Traub, who was president of Bloomingdale’s when Lachman was ceo and who succeeded him as ceo in 1978. “He linked the Bloomingdale’s of the post-War period, when it was more promotional, to the quality department store of the Sixties and Seventies. He had a brilliant mind, but he was soft-spoken and cared a great deal about people.”
Lachman stood six feet tall and had a commanding presence, yet was accessible to his staff, according to executives who reported to him.
“He played counterpoint to several of the great Bloomingdale’s merchants,” said Joseph Siegel, a former Bloomingdale’s merchandiser who worked with Lachman and is currently a retail consultant. Siegel was referring to such men as Harold Krensky, Jed Davison, Marvin Traub, Howard Goldfeder and Frank Chase.
“He was the organization man, the one who kept that organization in check,” Siegel added. “He had a strong hand. I remember him saying, ‘We have to be vigilant every day controlling expenses,’ but there was an intellectual honesty about him. He really had a total grasp of the business. Larry respected the merchants, even though he was conscious of the numbers. He knew it was the merchants that, in the end, cause the business to grow.”
“His vision was that Bloomingdale’s would be a powerhouse,” said Herbert Mines, chairman of Herbert Mines Associates executive search firm. “He saw it happen, and he supervised many of the people that made it happen.”
Lachman joined Bloomingdale’s in 1947 as treasurer, became vice president of personnel and operations in 1953, and in 1958 was named executive vice president for administration and personnel. In 1964, he became president and ceo. At the time, he told WWD that a Bloomingdale’s executive must familiarize himself with every aspect of the business, must assume responsibilities, but also know when to delegate them. Although he had bottom-line responsibility for the overall operation, he felt buyers should be more than just order takers and should be allowed to decide on how to make the profit.
“That’s how merchants become interested in operating problems,” he said.
In 1969, he was named chairman, continuing as ceo.
Following his retirement in 1978, Lachman was chairman and ceo of Business Marketing Corp. until 1980 and served as a director of several corporations, including Edgars Stores of South Africa and Ito-Yokado of Japan. Most recently, he was a director of DFS Group Ltd. and Advo Inc. Earlier, he was on the boards of Bank of New York, Cole National Corp., Dollar Dry Dock and Federated Department Stores, the parent of Bloomingdale’s.
He was also a trustee of New York University, from which he graduated summa cum laude in 1936, and played varsity shortstop. After he graduated, Lachman could have played semiprofessional baseball and was drafted by Connie Mack, the legendary manager and owner of the Philadelphia Athletics. Instead, he chose retailing, joining the former James McCreery department store on Fifth Avenue, as controller. His next job was treasurer of Citizen’s Utilities in Stamford, Conn., before joining Bloomingdale’s.
A service will be conducted Thursday at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home, 1076 Madison Avenue at 81st Street, at 11:30 a.m.
Lachman is survived by his wife of 52 years, Judith; two sons, Robert and Charles, and three grandchildren.