JAMES F. NORDSTROM, 56, FELLED BY CANCER
Byline: David Moin, and Bob Spector, Seattle
NEW YORK — James F. Nordstrom, an architect of Nordstrom’s sweeping national expansion and a grandson of a co-founder of the specialty chain, died Tuesday of cancer at his home in Seattle. He was 56 years old.
Known as “Mr. Jim” to his employees, the affable Nordstrom was co-chairman and the most personable of his generation of Nordstrom managers. Along with his brother, John, his cousin Bruce and his cousin-in-law Jack McMillan, he managed the company from 1968, when sales were $57.3 million until last year, when sales hit $3.9 billion. His responsibilities included supervising the women’s apparel business, but he was part of the team that built Nordstrom’s legendary service culture, which is feared and envied by retailers throughout the country.
In the book, “The Nordstrom Way,” he gave his philosophy on service, which involved establishing legions of independent-minded sales associates. “People will work hard when they are given the freedom to do the job the way they think it should be done, when they treat customers the way they like to be treated,” he said. “When you take away their incentive and start giving them rules — boom — you’ve killed their creativity.
“We run the business like our dads did. It’s a different business, but our fundamentals are the same. It’ll be the same next year and the year after and the year after.”
In 1955, at age 15, James began working for the Seattle-based company when it sold only shoes. He worked in a leased shoe department that Nordstrom ran at Rhodes department store in Seattle. Bruce Nordstrom once recalled that on Jim’s first day working in Rhodes, “The one thing that he had been told was that it was important to make your draw, to sell enough shoes to justify your guarantee.”
He stopped off at Jim’s department to take him to lunch but Jim had gone home. “His first customer was buying for an orphanage and had a whole list of $6 shoes,” said Bruce. “Jim sold a hundred dollars worth of shoes in one sale. That was probably the biggest sale they ever had in that department. He figured, OK, that’s enough, and he went home. This has been the story of his life. He’s always been the best salesman among us.”
No task was too small for the retail giant. Annette Armony, a Nordstrom sales associate, recalled the time Jim came into her department at the Portland store and a rounder fell down. “Denim was all over the floor. He helped us pick up the merchandise. He was so cool about it. He said, ‘Something’s wrong with this rounder, let’s go in the back room and get a new one.”‘
Last June, he stepped down from active management and was named co-chairman of the board with Bruce, John and Jack. Fourth-generation family members, including his sons Bill and Dan, along with his nephew, Jim and Bruce’s sons Blake, Erik and Pete were named co-presidents. Ray Johnson and John Whitacre, co-presidents, were promoted to co-chairmen. Nordstrom was the grandson of John W. Nordstrom, co-founder of Nordstrom, along with Carl Wallin. Along with his two sons and brother, he is survived by two other sons, Charles and James F. Jr.; his wife, Sally Anderson Nordstrom; four grandchildren, and his mother, Katherine Nordstrom.
Nordstrom served as a trustee for Swedish Hospital, which was founded by his grandfather, Nils August Johanson; a trustee for Stanford University School of Business, and as an independent director of the Professional Golf Association Tournament Policy Board. Nordstrom was also a pilot, an avid golfer and sailor.
A private memorial service will be held for family and friends in Seattle.