Always First Class, Kronick Takes Her Leave

Carole Sloan, April 12, 2010

It’s not often that a woman cracks the executive glass ceiling of major broad-line retailing. And it’s even less frequent that anyone, male or female, does it from a beginning in the home textiles world.

With the retirement this month of Sue Kronick, vice chair of Macy’s Inc., the retailing industry is losing someone who achieved both — with acclaim from suppliers, present colleagues, and those to whom she at one time reported.

At the close of a career that began in 1973 in the Bloomingdale’s executive training program, colleagues describe Kronick as “always the merchant, but also listened, asked probing questions, and helped drive solutions,” or “is a nurturer of talent,” and “has marvelous skills as well as human relations and communication.”

Her first boss, Gene Nathan, then buyer for the fledgling down and comforter department at Bloomingdale’s, recalled, “Sue was outstanding, a class act from the beginning, very efficient and took direction easily. She got along well with everyone.”

And that period at Bloomingdale’s was one when there were few women assistants because they needed to do heavy lifting. But an edict came down about hiring women, and Kronick was one of three in the department, Nathan said.

As Kronick recalled, “I was surrounded by the best — Nathan, Bill Strunk in sheets, and Hy Baer in towels and fancy linens, as well as Jerry Applebome” — a group that she named the Sunshine Boys — each of whom was a legendary figure as well in home textiles.

Nathan said when she became his boss, coming back to home textiles as vp after a stint in the branches, “it was even more pleasurable. She let me do more creative things. I have nothing but good to say about her. But she’s too young to retire.”

Terry Lundgren, ceo, chairman and president of Macy’s Inc., has been a friend and colleague since the ’70s, “and we both moved up through the company working in both merchant and stores roles,” he said. “I have always found Sue to be insightful and to genuinely keep the customer’s interests in mind when making decisions … She has always taken the time to mentor promising young people in the organization. In particular, she has been an inspiration and role model to many women who were considering careers in retailing.”

Kronick mused that “people today think about careers as vertical. I see retailing through various lenses.” She cited assignments that included merchandising, human resources, finance, and running stores. But the greatest pleasure, she added, “was the common dominator — we had fantastic people, and we were able to grow them.”

Mike Gould, ceo of Bloomingdale’s, reported to Kronick in her role supervising the Bloomingdale’s group. She later reported to Gould in the ’90s when he became the division’s ceo.

“She has always been passionate about product and compassionate about people. She’s a very good questioner, and I found her to be very thoughtful and also a good sounding board regardless of the reporting relationship. She was a great support to us in developing the strategy and execution of Bloomingdale’s growth over the last eight years.”

For Julie Greiner, now corporate chief merchandise planning officer, “Sue is a nurturer of talent, a mentor role model, and her greatest skills are reflected in the quality of her questions that require critical and deep thinking. She really probes on the tough questions. She has an understanding of the implications for stores and merchandising and pulled them together.”

Lenox president Lester Gribetz has known Kronick since she was a buyer and he was “Mr. Home Furnishings” at Bloomingdale’s. “She’s a funny, exciting creature. There’s nobody like her in retailing today. She’s marvelous, and she has it all. Her skills are marvelous — human relations, communications, and consistency. She never needed encouragement or prodding.”

Marvin Traub, former longtime ceo of Bloomingdale’s and now head of Marvin Traub Associates, a strategic marketing company, said: “I watched her grow up. She always performed in outstanding fashion whether in merchandising or operations. She has a good sense of humor and a great ability to select talent and people. She’s a no-nonsense merchant, and resources had a great deal of confidence in her.”

Norman Axelrod, her one-time boss, and later head of Linens ’n Things, reflected: “I didn’t know Sue well when I was promoted to vp. She was in stores on a different path. I hired Sue, and that says more about who you surround yourself with. She has the combination of intellect, communication skills, the ability to ask the right questions and a vision.”

“I’ve always been in love with Sue,” stated Julian Tomchin emphatically. “She was almost the first person I met at Bloomingdale’s in ’79 and I helped her in display.”

There are two very strong memories Tomchin has of Kronick. One was when she and Axelrod were trying to convert a greeting card fixture into one that could display sheets prior to a new store opening “with Sue holding the fixture and Norman using the drill.”

The other was when he left Bloomingdale’s as fashion director to go work for Fieldcrest. “She cried when I quit.”

For Dave Tracy, now a consultant and formerly head of Fieldcrest, “Sue was always the merchant. She was strident in a good way and could spot troublesome issues with a vendor, talk it out and come out with a solution for both.

“She also was so cutting edge, and her gift was so gracious and she had the sense to see the other side. I love her, the world loves her.”

Arthur Tauber, chairman of Avanti, recalled: “It was a pleasure doing business with her. What’s sad is that I don’t hear people talking about other retailers as they describe Sue.”

“I’m a huge fan of Sue’s” said Frank Foley, chairman and ceo of CHF Inds., who first met her when he took over the sheet and bed accessories business at J.P. Stevens. “She’s incredibly smart, not a bit short sighted nor rude, and very intelligent as well as generous of spirit. In a world becoming short of real merchants, she’s a real star, and I hope to see her back soon.”

Looking back, Kronick said: “The beauty of my career stops was that they were cross-functional in nature.”

From a strictly personal view, she noted: “For the first time in 61 years, there will not be a Kronick in Federated/Macy’s.” Her father, Al Kronick, retired as ceo of the former Abraham & Straus.

Looking ahead, she sees “the Internet creating a gigantic change to retailing and to life.” In addition, she believes “the unintended consequences of bigness — at the retail and supplier levels — ripples into every facet of the business. But Macy’s plan today is to be local in assortment and customer experiences as family businesses were in the past – but with the national presence of advertising and community involvement.”

For the near term, Kronick and her husband Edward Shumsky plan extensive travels that don’t necessarily involve store visits. She is currently a member of the board of Hyatt Hotels.

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