I was 22 years old when I decided to leave my home town of East Liverpool Ohio and move to Los Angels. Since I was 7 years old I had told my parents someday I was going to live in Southern California.

Why? Palm trees, beach, the Rose Bowl…It’s California! It was also more economically feasible for me to pursue an education by being a resident and going to a state school.

When I settled in I needed to get a job. One day Ralph’s grocery store called and offered me a job, as did Kinney Shoes in the Glendale Galleria. At the time it didn’t really matter to me as it was a means to pay tuition. I decided to leave the decision to chance and I flipped a coin. Heads I would work at Ralph’s and tails I would work at the mall.

I remember watching the coin spiral and hesitate as it fell coming up tails. I didn’t think twice about it in the moment and I was off to work at the mall. An example of serendipity I guess and I often wonder what would have happened if it had come up heads.

I use this preamble as a way of leading to how I ended up working for Nordstrom and the blessing of being mentored, scolded, motivated, frustrated, angered, inspired, befriended and shaped by Blake, Pete, Erik and the Nordstrom culture.

After working at Kinney’s for a year I was recruited to sell in Ladies Shoes for Nordstrom. Store 65 at the time. My first boss was Tim Gary and first store manager was Steve Schreiber. Both taught the Nordstrom values of take care of each other and take care of the customer.

After selling shoes for several years and earning my degree in Journalism, I realized the culture of the company fit what I believed in and enjoyed. Quite frankly I never had the belief in myself to be confident in what I could do to make a difference for others or to be financially or professionally successful.

At Nordstrom I found that. Even my parents were surprised at what I was doing and achieving with the company. I remember Mom saying, “Patrick we knew you would be happy and have lots of friends but we didn’t know how you would make a living.” Quite frankly I didn’t either.

Fast forward I am a Buyer/Manager at Santa Anita around 1995. It’s the first day of 1/2 yearly and Blake is on his way to the store to branch. It’s my first branch visit with Blake and at the time Blake supported the shoe division. Heck Blake Nordstrom was the Shoe division.

He had visited Cerritos earlier in the day and the buyer called me to review what Blake had covered. I remember hanging up thinking okay, I got this. In addition, our day was already in so I had a little swagger going. I had heard the stories even back then about a “Blake visit.” Knowing what he was going to be looking for and with the day in I was confident. Big mistake.

Blake arrives and could smell my cockiness. Several hours later after what was a humbling and even at times contentious visit, I called my merchandise manager, Kitty Wallace, and said it has been great working with you. She asked what I was talking about as she had just hung up with Blake and he said he had a great visit. By the way, his focus with me was completely different than what he had at Cerritos. He knew we talked.

I was in the shoe division for a few years before becoming a store manager. Santa Barbara, Westside, Boca Raton…many, many sleepless nights prior to a Blake branch visit.

A Blake visit for me was like cramming for a final exam. No matter how hard I studied there would be those moments. The questions you would never know were coming. Blake was like the very best attorney as he didn’t really ask a question he didn’t already know the answer to.

Boca…“So Pat, how many transactions a day are completed at your ATM?” Nervous laughter would follow and a sheepish, “I don’t know.” Followed by, “Don’t you think you should? It’s your store.”

You never wanted to lose track of Blake on a visit. An independent, on his own Blake was dangerous. His eye to detail was second to none and he would see things in five minutes others would not see in an entire day.

Santa Anita…“How many sizes does the Sensation come in?” “I’m not sure.” He flips over the box lid..“Well it’s right here on the lid.”

I’m a regional manager for the Rack, and of course Blake supported the Rack at the time. He branched with me in Chicago one day and brought his son along. It was just so great watching him interact with both the team and his son.

I hold dear so many memories with him. All the lunches and dinners and the inevitable end-of-lunch question to the table…“If this was your restaurant, what would you have done differently to make this a better experience?”

I recall taking him to the airport and him reaching over and pressing my leg down to go faster.

The flowers and notes sent when my parents passed.

The encouraging notes and calls and even the “What were you thinking” moments.

Even now after being gone for almost three years, we exchanged notes on my birthday in September. He never forgot a birthday or child’s name or personal interest.

The Recognition meetings when I would talk about 12 Customer Service All-Stars and watch Blake with out any notes stand up at the end of the meeting and mention each by name and something unique about why they won.

As a ‘Nordy’ I would at times get the comment ‘you sure drank the kool-aid.’ It was at times said in a cynical or derogatory way by those who didn’t have the honor of upholding the brand and culture.

To those I say yes, I drank deep from the kool-aid. It was an elixir, a tonic for me. That kool-aid gave me strength and perspective. It formed me and nourished me, allowing me to create a wonderful life for my family. It taught me servant leadership, which I believe is the only substantive way to lead. It instilled a shop owner mentality into my DNA.

Even now as a competitor of Nordstrom, I carry the learnings and leadership mantras I either directly or indirectly took from Blake and his disciples. I like to think I am one of those disciples.

Leadership philosophies such as..
* Never ask your team to do something you are not willing to do yourself.
* Confidence without arrogance.
* What you tolerate you encourage.
* It’s better to be more curious and less opinionated.
* There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path..(Wait that might have been Morpheus in the Matrix or maybe Geevy!)
* Be present to the moment.
* Our greatest strength can also at times be our greatest opportunity.
* Listen without judgement.
* The filter is always if I were a customer or for our employees culture if I were a new hire…

As a leader for a competitor now I do my best to employ these daily in order to, quite honestly, beat the Nordstrom 200 feet away from me and gain market share. I say that knowing Blake wouldn’t want it any other way.

The main thing about a branch visit with Blake for me was I didn’t want to disappoint him. So with that, I will view the remainder of my working days as a branch visit with Blake.

I will do everything possible to not let him or the family down and emulate and execute on his teachings.

One last branch visit, Blake. Let’s make this a long one…one for eternity. I won’t let you down.

Pat McGowan