- Nordstrom on Wednesday announced that Blake Nordstrom died in Seattle early on Jan. 2, at the age of 58.
- He had served as co-president of Nordstrom Inc. alongside two brothers. "It is with deep sadness that we announce the unexpected passing of Blake Nordstrom. ... Executive leadership of Nordstrom will continue under company co-presidents Pete and Erik Nordstrom. We appreciate your respect for the privacy of the family during this difficult time," the company said in a statement.
- The department store was founded in 1901 as a shoe store by the Nordstroms' great-grandfather, John W. Nordstrom, and Blake Nordstrom had worked there for more than 40 years. Last month he revealed that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma, a blood cancer, but said then it was treatable.
Despite its age and age-old department store model, Nordstrom is widely seen as innovative both offline (the company first launched off price in the 1970s when it opened its first Rack stores and is currently trying out merchandise-free Local stores) and online (investing in HauteLook, Trunk Club and Shoes of Prey, for example).
Blake in particular was willing to take risks, something that often worked for the company because he was also often right about trends, according to GlobalData Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders. In a statement emailed to Retail Dive, National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay appeared to agree, calling him one of retail's "thoughtful visionaries" and "a servant leader and a friend to all who knew him.”
"Blake Nordstrom was, first and foremost, a retailer. His instinct was always to make decisions based on what customers wanted, with one eye on how demand was changing," Saunders said in comments emailed to Retail Dive. "This, along with his view that the business should be run on a long-term basis, meant that Nordstrom was usually one step ahead of rivals on big retail trends like omnichannel, own-label development, and the creation of an off-price spin-off."
The department store is a public company, but the close involvement of the family in the top executive ranks, and its willingness to try new things, often makes it seem like it's still privately held — something many family members, including Blake, tried to make a reality recently. "This style of management and [Blake's] vision is why Nordstrom has always been innovative and has, on occasion, shunned short-term gains in favor of doing the right thing for the long run," Saunders said.
All Nordstroms were instilled at an early age with the belief that retail's top focus must be the customer, according to Kathy Gersch, who worked with the brothers and their cousin Jamie Nordstrom (now president of stores) when she was an executive there at the turn of the century. That helps guide decisions about continuing with, returning to or abandoning any one practice or other, she said.
"Blake didn't stay in his office. I think that his presence and his openness to be really engaged and share will be missed in the company and in the community — he was very giving of his time," Gersch, now founder and executive vice president at consultancy Kotter International, told Retail Dive in an interview.
Board chairman Brad Smith in his statement Wednesday sought to reassure the public about the executive team's capabilities, despite the loss. "Everyone who worked with Blake knew of his passion and deep commitment to employees, customers and the communities we serve," he said in a statement. "We are fortunate to have continued leadership from co-presidents Pete and Erik Nordstrom."
Indeed, the brothers and their cousin are steeped in each other's areas of responsibility, Gersch said. "They've swapped roles and responsibilities so they all have a very good, broad understanding of the business — not that they were preparing for all this — but that will enable them to lead. It's always been about that and not about them as individuals — they're a hardworking, humble family that really puts that company first. I think they've structured things so that even with the tragic passing of Blake they will carry on."