I have spent the last few days struggling to find the words. I am both incredibly sad to lose my friend and grateful to have had nearly 30 years and countless Blake stories. I spent the last few days reading many tributes on social media from current and former Nordstrom employees, reading articles and news stories sharing his accomplishments in our industry and reading the many direct messages from family and friends expressing their sense of loss. Hearing your stories has been unexpectedly healing for me. I share these thoughts in the same spirit.
I’m truly at a loss for words. Blake was one of the very best people I’ve known in my life. It’s hard to compile the many times he has been there for me.
Looking back, I was just a kid when I first met Blake. I had been supporting a store in Southern California reporting to Pete. One day, Pete called me to tell me that Blake was looking for a store manager for Store 1 and that I should give his brother a call. I declined, I told him that I wanted to stay in SoCal and eventually manage South Coast Plaza (the biggest volume store in the company at the time). Later that day Blake called. His enthusiasm was infectious. He presented this opportunity at Store 1 as a once in a lifetime chance. Next thing I knew, I was living in Seattle. That call changed both my personal and my professional life forever.
As many of you know, i find inspiration in many places. There is a song in the musical Wicked that reminds me of the impact we can have on one another:
I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives
For a reason— bringing something we must learn
And we are lead to those who help us most to grow
If we let them and help them in return.
Well I don’t know if I believe that’s true…
But I know I’m who I am today because I knew you.
That is exactly how my relationship with Blake made me feel. He was the person I needed to help me grow. He had enormously high expectations. He held himself to the highest standards and held those he supported to the same. He never asked me, or anyone else I know, to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself. Everything Blake had said about working in Store 1 was true. I got the chance to learn directly from all of the top merchants at the time. I learned from Bob Nunn, Jack Minuk, Sue Patneaude, Cindy Paur, Pat Kennedy, Jack Irving, among others. Long time Nordy’s will recognize these names as our equivalent to a Nordstrom Merchant Hall of Fame. Chief among my teachers— Blake Nordstrom.
Had Blake accepted at face value my passing on the Seattle opportunity, I wouldn’t have met Elizabeth, my wife of 23 years, and had our two kids. In fact, he was the first person I ever told about her. After my first date with Elizabeth, I told him I would marry her, he laughed and said she was way out of my league. He always kept me humble, and I always felt like he straddled the line between laughing at me and laughing with me. I was never sure in the moment which it was, but as the minutes passed I quickly realized he was laughing with me.
Thinking back, we were so young— he was 32, I was 28. I’m 54 now. For most of the last decade, I have reported directly to Blake.
Blake was always a ‘retail is detail’ kind of guy. He did 4 hour long store walks resulting in long lists of things that could be better. He viewed everything from the customer’s perspective, and he cared about every detail, because the customers deserve to have us think of the details. He led by example.
He was the embodiment of the Nordstrom culture.
A day visiting a store, distribution or fulfillment center with Blake started early in the morning and frequently ended near midnight. He met every person with the same energy at 8 a.m. as he did at 11pm. It’s hard to be on 24/7, but he felt our people deserved it. He was quick to offer a word of encouragement, to ask about a person’s family, to remember a person’s name, birthday, the names of their children… He saw all of us as important, special and worthy. He made us all feel like we were part of his family.
When speaking at a store opening in the South, I shared that Nordstrom has no formal chain of command, and how we practice an open door policy— any employee can seek out any leader. At the rally, I had mentioned that Blake answered his own line (his calls weren’t screened). The new hires didn’t believe me, so I challenged one of them to call him on speaker phone right then and there. He answered with his ubiquitous “Hellooo.” They would quickly hang up the phone and the whole group would laugh. Since that store opening, I’ve had a new hire call Blake each time. He mentioned to me once that people kept calling him and hanging up, and I never told him that it was probably because of me. He lived the open door policy and I never hesitated to put his values to the test. As consistent as flipping a light switch, I knew I could count on him to walk the talk.
He was a person with unparalleled work ethic and personal integrity. As a co-president he directly supported virtually all aspects of the business over his 40 years serving our customers. He truly loved all parts of the business…but mention the Rack or Shoes and you would see a special twinkle in his eye. Blake loved the discipline and repetition that is the Rack. He loved the work ethic and generous spirit of the team. It is on his retail DNA that our team has been built. He was a shop keeper, a merchant, a champion of the customer and our people.
He was my mentor and my friend. He was a man whose strength was rooted in kindness, untold acts of generosity, an indomitable competitive spirit, his love of family and of every part of our company. He was personally very humble and yet had so much pride in all of us. We are his legacy. His values will continue to live on through all of us for generations of Nordy’s to come.