For all you CEOs who privately ponder how the employees of your company would react to your death, visit the Nordstrom Friends page on Facebook. The raw emotional outpouring to the news of the unexpected death of 58-year-old co-president Blake Nordstrom on January 2 may nudge you to appraise how you have influenced the culture and spirit of your organization.
Mr. Nordstrom, the great-grandson of the Swedish immigrant who opened a tiny shoe store in downtown Seattle in 1901, had led the publicly-traded company since 2000, working closely with his younger brothers Peter and Erik who shared the office of president. Today, the fashion retailer operates 380 stores in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, with a market value of nearly $8 billion.
Like all the other Nordstroms, Blake started out as a young man doing odd jobs around the store, eventually selling shoes, and then rising up through the ranks via a series of jobs. The Nordstrom family members relate to the people on the salesfloor, the department managers, the buyers, etc. because they held all those jobs themselves. There are no crown princes in this family. As salesperson Peter Kontos wrote on Facebook, Blake “was one of us… He always remembered my name.” Hundreds of people also noted that Mr. Nordstrom remembered their name and other pertinent information. That’s how he made personal connections with the workforce.
Melinda McMillion, who worked alongside Mr. Nordstrom, wrote, “He taught us all to be the best we can be. I will miss that smile…”
Referring to Nordstrom, Inc. as “our company,” Sylvia Balaoing Aguigui, wrote, “I say ‘our company’; not ‘his’—because that is what he and the rest of the Nordstrom family instill in us every day.”
The Facebook page is filled with similar reminiscences, not about grand gestures, but, in the words of Erin Capron, “little moments… filled with honesty, humility, compassion, and true caring that made him a giant. Where he could have passed us all by on the way to something ‘more important,’ he stopped, said hello, offered to open a box, buy a coffee, shake a hand and in some cases help remerch a tired sweater display!”
There are hundreds of other stories of Mr. Nordstrom’s genuine interest in people, his mentorship, but also his insistence on doing things the Nordstrom way.
One of the most moving stories is from Steve Antle, a recovering drug addict who had served 3 years in prison on drug charges before being hired at Nordstrom. He was eventually selected as a company All-Star for giving outstanding service. When the Nordstrom brothers came to Steve’s store to present an award,” This tall guy in a suit stuck his head in the door, smiling, and said, ‘You must be Steve.’ He stuck his hand out and said, ‘I’m Blake.’ He knew about my All-Star award, who I was, how long I had worked there, and knew about a great deal of my personal history and addiction/recovery story. I was shocked that a CEO of a major company would take the time, let alone, even know who I was.”
Dozens of these Facebook posts were accompanied by photos of themselves with Blake, always with his signature grin. Many Nordstrom employees said they are going to rededicate themselves to their job in Mr. Nordstrom’s honor.
So, Mr. or Ms. CEO, can you look back upon a career of mentoring, inspiring, and encouraging the people on the front lines of your organization? After you’ve gone, what will they say about you?