Over my Nordstrom career I had the pleasure of interacting with Blake many times in many different roles. The most memorable of those interactions have been as the Store Manager of both Downtown Seattle Rack (#16) and Union Square Rack (#515) where I learned more from Blake in 15 minutes than most teach in an hour. The lessons weren’t always easy, but they were always valuable, and I cherished every second I got to spend learning from him. All his teachings were incredible, but the final lesson he taught me stands out as the most profound.
As the Store Manager at Union Square, I thought hard about how to grow myself professionally and personally through continuing my education and pursuing an MBA. I knew I wanted to attend the Carlson School of Management at University of Minnesota in my hometown of Minneapolis, but I wasn’t sure how I could do that while continuing my career at Nordstrom. Then a smaller Rack Store Manager role posted in Minnesota and I knew the timing was right. I spoke with my leaders, and the hiring managers, but after all of the time Blake had spent investing in my career over the years, I wanted to talk it through with him before making any final decisions.
So, I called him. His voicemail said he was traveling and Ruth had gone home for the day so I sent him an email just asking if he had any time over the next day or two to talk through something with me. He replied within an hour saying he was in London for business and asked if we could connect when he returned a few days later. “Of course!” I replied, “It’s not an emergency, and can certainly wait until you’re back home.” The very next day, Blake called me, from London, in the middle of his day. There were connection issues, so he tried several times before he got a hold of me. After I explained that I was asking for his blessing to move into a smaller Store Manager role, move back to Minnesota, and go back to school so I could be him someday, he replied:
“Ryan, you don’t need an MBA to do my job. Keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll learn everything you need to learn from different leaders, in different places, and in different roles to do this job. But, if it’s a personal goal that you have, and if someday you think you might want to do a job outside of Nordstrom that would benefit from you having an MBA, then of course I support you. Let me know how I can help.”
I already knew that Blake wanted me to be successful at Nordstrom, but it was in that moment that I realized Blake wanted me to be successful at whatever I was going to do. Blake taught me that our job doesn’t begin and end within the walls of our stores, our culture is bigger than that and it reaches into who we are as people and how we care for those around us. The business is important, and we should be laser focused on growing it every day. But first, before anything else, comes the people…our customers and our employees. And if you take care of them and their needs, the business will be better for it. Thank you, Blake, for teaching me to be a stronger leader, and a better person. I will miss you enormously.