The Answer Is: Nordstroms

Family feud leads to resignation of non-family ceo
Posted September 1, 2000

After a period of time during which Nordstrom's meteoric rise leveled off and sales growth stalled, there will again be a Nordstrom at the top of the organization. John Whitacre, who in 1997 became the first non-Nordstrom to lead the 100-year-old Seattle-based retailer, announced his resignation yesterday as chairman and ceo. So did cfo Michael Stein. Replacing Whitacre will be Blake Nordstrom, 39, as president and Bruce Nordstrom, 65, as chairman of the board.

Blake Nordstrom, who began with the company in 1974 as a stock clerk - and later worked as salesman, buyer, merchandise manager and store manager - was one of six brothers and cousins to be named co-presidents in 1995. Whitacre became ceo in 1997, and in 2000 the company was reorganized into five units and the co-presidencies were eliminated. Blake Nordstrom became president of the Nordstrom Rack Group.

After years of solid growth throughout the 1980s, the company's profitability stalled. In more recent years, that has led to discord between the Nordstrom family - many of whom sit on the board of directors, as well as in operational positions - and the non-family regime. While some pointed to the lower level of control within the family as part of the problem, others give Whitacre credit for taking steps to turn the company around. "(Whitacre) started a process to bring the store toward the realities of retail today," commented Michael Exstein, a retail analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston. "Steps that were absolutely necessary, like pooling purchases, reducing costs, not resorting to selling on price." The Whitacre team was also credited with bringing Nordstrom's notorious inventory overstocking problems under control.

But during the summer, Nordstrom announced that earnings would fall far short of forecasts, and the company stock fell. The company said it had engaged a national search firm to do extensive recruiting before settling on Blake Nordstrom.