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Blake Nordstrom, Top Officer of Nordstrom Stores, Dies at 58

Blake Nordstrom, who headed a triumvirate of brothers that ran the luxury apparel store chain that their Swedish-American family founded and led its efforts in discount retailing and innovative customer service, has died. He was 58.

Nordstrom died in Seattle on Wednesday, the company said in a statement, less than a month after disclosing he was undergoing chemotherapy for a treatable form of lymphoma.

Nordstrom was sole president of Seattle-based Nordstrom Inc. for 15 years, beginning in 2000. In 2015, the company named his brothers, Peter and Erik, as co-presidents in charge of the chain’s brick-and-mortar stores and unit, respectively. Blake Nordstrom remained the public face of the company for shareholders in the absence of any chief executive officer.

Like his brothers, Nordstrom spent his adult life at the company, starting as someone who swept floors and restocked shelves with shoes, the sole product offered at its founding in 1901.

‘Paid Their Dues’

“They paid their dues,” Betsy Sanders, a former Nordstrom vice president told Businessweek in 2001, shortly after Blake Nordstrom was named sole president. “They worked really hard.”

Blake Nordstrom’s principal challenge as president was to counter declining sales at its large, luxurious mall stores in the face of online competition. In charge of the company’s chain of discount stores, called Nordstrom Rack, he increased profitability at that unit right after his promotion and helped implement innovative revenue-increasing ideas.

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One of these was to open small stores, called Nordstrom Local. In cities such as Los Angeles, they offered services, such as alterations, personal stylist advice and returns processing—but stocked no actual apparel. Customers could use the in-town outlets to pick up items they had purchased online. Nordstrom also allowed customers to pre-select clothing and book a changing room—and to pay by text.

Last year, Nordstrom opened its first location in Manhattan—a men’s store on West 57th Street, and a women’s store is set to open across the street later this year.

By the end of 2018, the company’s market capitalization was about $8 billion, reflecting sales from 122 Nordstrom department stores and more than 244 Nordstrom Rack outlets. The Nordstrom family unsuccessfully tried to take the company private last year.

Top Performer

In its most recent fiscal year, Nordstrom recorded sales of $15.5 billion.

In 2018, the Harvard Business Review named Blake Nordstrom, who reported only to a non-executive chairman, one of the 100 best performing CEOs, as it had for several years.

Throughout the challenge from online sales, Blake Nordstrom and his brothers maintained the company’s emphasis on gilt-edge customer service—the Nordstrom Way—characterized by a generous return policy, thank-you notes from knowledgeable sales clerks and in-store amenities such as live music played by pianists on grand pianos.

‘Good Service’

“We know by giving good service we sell more,” Blake Nordstrom told Businessweek in 2001.

That improved service included: equipping staff with mobile devices that can ring up a sale anywhere in the store and offering curbside pickup of items purchased online.

Blake Willard Nordstrom was born Oct. 4, 1960, in Washington, D.C., to Bruce and Fran Nordstrom. He was the great grandson of Nordstrom founder John W. Nordstrom. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1982.

He spent his adult life working for Nordstrom in various posts, starting as a stockperson, then a salesman at the women’s shoe division in the mid-1970s.

He joined the Nordstrom board in 2005 and was also a member of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco.

Nordstrom and his brothers, the fourth generation of family managers, continued a shared-responsibility tradition that dated back to Elmer, Everett and Lloyd Nordstrom, sons of the founder, and their children, including Blake’s father Bruce, who retired as chairman in 2006.

After John Nordstrom handed over his shoe store to his three sons, the second generation of Nordstroms focused on expanding to clothing. The third set took the company public in 1971 and added a clearance outlet, Nordstrom Rack. Blake and his brothers moved Nordstrom from the mall to the internet.

Reporting by Patrick Oster.