By Shari Goldstein Stern
Dallasite Karen Katz grew up shopping at NorthPark Center, and her lifelong shopping spree at Neiman Marcus began there when she was a teenager. Those teenage shopping years led to her ascension to president and CEO of the upscale department store in 2010. But Katz announced in January that she would step down from those roles, but remain an active member of the board of directors.
“It will be interesting to be a part of corporate strategy from the other side of the table,” Katz said. “Serving on the board will give me an opportunity to look at the business from a more conceptual perspective rather than execution and day-to-day performance.”
Katz joined the company in 1985 as a merchandise manager of the Neiman Marcus Town & Country store in suburban Houston. From that small store, she began her move up the proverbial corporate escalator. She was appointed president and CEO of the Neiman Marcus Group after serving in several executive-level positions, including president of Neiman Marcus Stores and Neiman Marcus Online. During the early 1990s, Katz was vice president and general manager of the company’s top-volume store in the chain at NorthPark Center — the store in which she had always loved to shop.
Years before, when considering how she would put her education to work, she mulled over going to business school to earn an MBA. At times, she toyed with the idea of becoming a lawyer. Ultimately, she realized she just needed a job and pursued a career in retail. After graduating from The University of Texas, she applied to both Foley’s and Neiman Marcus’ merchant training programs. It was Foley’s, now a division of Federated Stores and parent company of Macy’s, that hired her. Ironically, Neiman Marcus turned her down. She called her subsequent success with Neiman Marcus “sweet revenge.” Her Neiman Marcus career spans 33 years — about half of her life.
Katz grew up in Preston Hollow, where she attended Thomas Jefferson High School. She and her husband, Alan, moved back to Dallas from Houston. He is in the oil industry. They have a son, Alex, who lives in San Francisco.
“Presently he is starting a company focusing on making access to mental health options easier. Alan and I are very proud of him,” she said.
Neiman Marcus Group is a $5 billion company that operates several successful luxury retail e-commerce sites, as well as 42 Neiman Marcus Stores, two Bergdorf Goodman stores in New York, and MyTheresa, based in Munich, Germany. The company has a complex network of luxury vendors. However, it is their “worldly and wired” customers who are the focus of everything it does.
As Katz said, “Our customer is the center of everything we do. The company was founded on two enduring principles, the finest merchandise and superlative customer service. Today, Neiman’s is known worldwide for our dedication to our customers whether they shop in a store or on the web.”
In reflecting on her long career, Katz credits working with strong mentors.
“When I ran the NorthPark store, Stanley Marcus was a frequent visitor. He was very forthcoming with advice and counseled me to always stay focused on the customer.”
She explained that he would often send her notes about how he viewed the store. She has kept them all. “They are great artifacts detailing retail truths.”
Katz regards her leadership style as one of mentor and a champion of women. Regarding women who work for Neiman’s, Katz commented, “I am so proud that over half of our senior executive team and a large percentage of our store general managers are women. Retailing is a very inclusive and diverse industry and there are lots of opportunities for advancement. It’s business that is very people-centric.”
Katz readily acknowledges that working with the team is one of the things she will miss the most in retirement. “Every Neiman Marcus associate has such great passion for our customers and our business and I feed off their energy. I will also miss our customers immensely. They are so incredibly loyal.”
Beyond developing and mentoring the team and growing the business, Katz believes another of her enduring contributions is the company’s commitment to philanthropy through the Heart of Neiman Marcus Foundation that supports youth arts education programs. In 2016, donations from the Heart of Neiman Marcus Foundation impacted over 1.2 million young people, and by 2017 the company’s support had increased to more than 2 million people’s lives touched and changed for the better through the company’s efforts to support the arts.
“I think that having grown up in a strong Jewish family, you become instilled with the commitment to give back to the community, and to be respectful of every part of the community.” As an extension of her commitment to tzedakah, Katz was instrumental in creating the All Heart Fund, part of the Heart of Neiman Marcus Foundation, which is funded by employees for employees facing hardships and to support disaster relief efforts.
Katz said, “I love being involved in the Jewish community, and I’m proud to be. I’m also proud of what Neiman Marcus does for the community, and particularly the Jewish community. Support of Jewish organizations is good for employers and employees at large.”
Katz juggles her various business, community and family endeavors by making lists.
“To avoid feeling overwhelmed, I write a list. I’m famous for my list-making,” she said. “I break each list down to small, achievable parts and that makes each a small victory.”
She revealed other recommendations for staying true to yourself and on track with goals — whether personal or professional: “Manage your personal brand. Stay true to your values. Use social media. Work hard. The adage ‘The harder I work, the greater my luck’ has proven to be true in my experiences.
“I have always worked very, very hard,” Katz added. “I believed that working hard trumps a lot of things. Working hard is part of your own personal brand. I have every intention of working as hard in this next chapter of my life as I did during my retailing career.
“I’m excited about seeing what is next for me. I’m still young enough that I look forward to the future.”