What did you want to be when you were growing up in New York City?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a lawyer or a pilot. Although I wanted the lawyer part more. It intrigued me and what appealed to me was investigating, looking at every side, and applying the proper law. Which I now know is not that much different from the work I ended up doing: operations and risk management.
But you never ended up going to law school?
I took some college classes, including a couple law courses, but that was as far as I got. I pretty much went straight into retail. My first big retail job was Neiman Marcus in 1983. I did lots of operations and worked my way up to operations manager. I transferred to Minnesota, but it was too damn cold (can I say that in a family newsletter?)
So, I went to Florida to defrost for three months. But then I decided to go back to New York, where the pay was much better.
I became the director of operations for the Polo Ralph Lauren flagship store in Manhattan and the Hamptons.
Did you get discounts on clothes there and at Neiman Marcus?
I would get all my clothes where I worked. I got the best discount at Ralph Lauren, and we had to wear their clothes. But it was not a bad deal. Today, you can’t buy a shirt that meets with the quality they had back then. In fact, I still have two shirts from my time with Ralph Lauren (from 1992 to 1997) that are in good shape, including a grey plaid dress shirt. I still wear them today. My fine suits? I donated those to charity when I switched jobs and didn’t need to wear a suit to work every day.
Fashion aside, you learned about more than just clothes working at Ralph Lauren.
What made Ralph Lauren famous was not just his ties, but his vision of how the product was displayed and how the stores were maintained.
And they wanted the back of the house – where the employees ate, maintained stock, and just hung out – to look just as good as the front of the house and give them a nice environment. So, I mean that in a physical sense because the back of the house had the same polished specs as the front of the house. But it was also psychological: The idea being that you should treat employees well.
It all made sense because if employees love to work for you because they are treated well and treated to a nice environment in the back of the house, they will treat the customers well in the front of the house.
Your next job, Saks Fifth Avenue, ended up being a turning point.
When I was with Saks, someone said I would be a good risk manager because I knew everything about operations. So I went to Saks corporate and they asked me to put a risk management program together for the U.S. stores and the sister stores – Saks Off Fifth. I worked with our insurers too, and that’s how I basically learned risk management.
Was there overlap between operations and risk management?
Operations is making things run smoothly. That means sales, shipping, receiving, etc.
Risk management, in turn, happens on the operations side. You investigate how problems occur, identify weak points, what you are vulnerable to, etc. And then you put in place the right measures to avoid the problems. In other words, you tweak the ops to make sure the risks don’t happen.
And I like my job better now because I can tell lawyers what to do.
From Saks you went to the cable industry: Time Warner and now you’re based in St. Louis for Charter Communications. What was it like landing in a new business environment like cableland?
When I came into the cable industry, my boss gave me three months to learn the business; interview every vice president, and just talk to people.
Then you start to learn how things operate. Why do we do this and that?
That gave me the insight I needed to learn the business before I had to implement operational change.
And when the claims come in, you look for a pattern and what you need to change. If there is anything you can engineer out, you do and try to make it better for the next time.
And I enjoy the claims aspects because there are so many pieces to track. Also, you can’t make up half the stories that come across your desk.
How did you get involved with Magna?
I learned about Magna through one of their CHOPPED events almost one and a half years ago and I will say that I love their events (editor’s note: CHOPPED being Magna’s highly successful seminar series and annual fund raiser for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.)
But more to the legal point, their insight is great. We now use Magna’s JuryConfirm, mock jury, jury evaluator and court reporting.
What I also like about Magna is that they can support an attorney from A to Z: From jury consulting to PowerPoints for trial. It’s just an incredible business model they have developed to help with the whole process.
I did not realize until I saw a trial how important it is to have someone helping you. And not just the need for two attorneys sometimes.
There is just so much going on, in a complicated case, you have to have the attorneys focused and have the background work taken care of by someone else: the printouts, the paperwork, etc.
All of those are key things. And I have been on the other side where it’s one person doing everything. It’s just too much for one person. The presentations look sloppy and it makes the attorney look disheveled.
But Magna does all this for you. It makes you look better and it helps you fight better. When there is a lot on the line, it may still go against you, but at least you put up a good fight.
What does Magna have in common with Ralph Lauren?
Coming from those high-end retail stores, that’s what they are famous for: customer service.
Magna is the same way. Any question you have, they respond immediately. On a Sunday, I had questions about a file and asked someone at Magna about it. They immediately got back to me, said they had the same questions and they were going to address it on Monday.
So, my relationship with Magna is outstanding and I would say their customer service and sales support are outstanding.
What does St. Louis have in common with NYC?
I love good food. And St. Louis is known for food. They are famous for fried raviolis, which are pretty good. But coming from NYC…. NYC has the best food. I love Italian food, and the best Italian is in NYC.
What’s next for you?
I just have to pick a state to retire in. I have six years left to retire. North Carolina, Colorado or Arizona are possibilities.
Although I also have four kids and a 16-year-old who is a serious baseball player. He plays catcher. When he was 6 years old, we did a tour of Yankees stadium and a worker sort of secretly ushered us over to see Derek Jeter’s locker. My son sat there, took it all in, and said he wanted to play for the Yankees. So if that happens, we might even move back to New York.