In fact, I think you’re all well on your way.
You are poised to be leaders in an industry that supports 42 million jobs – that’s one in four jobs across America.
And retail drives that kind of economic activity because it’s a dynamic industry, an industry that’s always moving and always changing. That’s why, if you have imagination and drive, you can start out in the stockroom, or behind a counter, and wind up in a top job in marketing, management or even in the corner office.
I happen to believe that I’ve got one of the best jobs in Washington, maybe THE best job in Washington, because I have the chance to represent an industry I love and tell the stories about how the retail industry is delivering value for customers every day, creating jobs, serving communities and driving innovation. I also love it because I have the chance to work with dozens of CEOs and senior executives, many of whom have fabulous stories about their careers.
Look at Terry Lundgren, the chairman and CEO of Macy’s, who started his career right here in L.A., delivering china and tableware to local Bullock’s stores from the back of the family station wagon. And Karen Katz, who was turned down for a job at Neiman Marcus in 1985, and was named chairman and CEO of that iconic brand in 2011.
Or our chairman, Steve Sadove, who started in a marketing role with a consumer products company and rose through the ranks to be chairman and CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue.
Or Jim Wright, the former chairman and CEO of Tractor Supply Company. The day he was named CEO in 2000, the investment community welcomed him by dropping TSC’s share price from $1 to 80 cents! But hard work and vision paid off, and Jim saw the share price exceed $120 before he retired as CEO last year.
There are so many career paths in retail. Did you know that retail employs more financial analysts than Wall Street? More software engineers than Silicon Valley? And hundreds of thousands of executives in real estate and construction and supply chain and digital media?
So it’s not only the heights you can reach, it’s the unlimited career paths. That makes the retail industry a pure meritocracy. Everyone has an opportunity to succeed. Talent, hard work, perseverance and sometimes a little luck will take you as far as you want to go.
I’m bullish on the future of retail, too. Because as we enter the “second generation of the digital revolution,” it’s become clear that it’s not “bricks versus clicks.” On the contrary, it’s omnichannel retailers who are winning, retailers who have learned to embrace both online and in-store customer experiences. There’s no other industry in the world that is as consumer-centric and customer-focused as retail, and that’s what makes the future so exciting. That’s also why retail isn’t just entering the second stage of the digital revolution, it’s leading it.
Earlier this year, I spent some time with Jack Dorsey, founder of Square and co-founder of Twitter. We talked about the future of the industry, and how technology can remove the remaining barriers to payments transactions and the interaction between customers and retailers.
The entire business model at Square is based on using technology to remove one of the most stubborn obstacles in the relationship between retailers and their customers – payments. And that, in turn, is helping consumers perceive retail brands as seamless experiences across many channels – online, in-store, digital, mobile – rather than a series of individual, inconsistent, one-off experiences.
Sometime soon, we all will be able to walk into a store, pick what we want and walk out without stopping at the checkout line. Of course, some people do this already – they’re called “shoplifters.” But in the near future, with RFID chips and sensors, we will do this and still be called “valued customers.”
But of all the things to be excited about today, you know the most exciting thing about this bright future for retail? You’re going to lead it.
Let me conclude by sharing a few “Life Lessons” that I’ve learned – mostly the hard way – in the hope that as you begin your careers, I can save you a few mistakes along the way.
When I graduated from college, three of my best friends were headed to Colorado to ski for a year. As much as I wanted to go with them, my dad had already put me through college, and with a younger brother and two younger sisters behind me, I didn’t think it was fair to ask my dad to subsidize a year-long ski trip with my buddies. So I went to law school instead … where he supported me for three years!
The truth is, I wasn’t committed to law school. In fact, I spent most of my student loan money traveling to Colorado to ski with my buddies – and I finished in the bottom 20 percent of my class after my first year.
And so I learned Life Lesson #1 – When You Make a Decision, Be Committed!
I spent the next couple of years digging myself out of the hole I was in. Law school is very competitive, and no one made way for a guy in the bottom 20 percent of the class. But I worked my way onto the Law Review, improved my grades, and by the third year, I had moved into the top third of the class.
That taught me Life Lesson #2 – Clean Up Your Own Messes!
After graduation, a trade association offered me a job that paid only half of what I was offered by a law firm. And you know what? I went with my heart and accepted the trade association’s lower offer.
That’s when I learned Life Lesson #3 – Happiness Is More Important Than Money.
In my career, I have been fortunate to be mentored by some amazing people. The judge who hired me after law school, the McDonald’s executive who encouraged me to go to Washington and chase my dream 20 years ago, the group of CEOs who hired me for this job, and many others. They’ve opened doors, shown me new ways forward, pointed me in the right direction and kicked me in the rear. I wouldn’t be here without them.
All of that taught me Life Lesson #4 – Find a Mentor.
One of those mentors is a very successful entrepreneur from Houston named Doc Cohen. He has 600 retail employees working for him. Doc once looked at me and said, “The last thing that I ever did by myself was hire my first employee.”
That taught me Life Lesson #5 – No One Ever Accomplished Anything Great By Themselves.
Let me close by making a few final observations. FIDM is an institution that teaches young people to think for themselves, to design for others and to innovate for the world. That ought to come easy for you. After all, you’re Millennials. They say that in addition to being impatient and entitled, you’re generally predisposed to shake things up because you’re so intolerant of the status quo.
So I say, go ahead – shake things up. And remember George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Be unreasonable. Challenge the status quo. Make this a better place. Take some risks. Don’t be afraid to fail, or to fall flat on your face. It’s one the best ways to achieve success in life. And as Winston Churchill, who knew a little bit about falling on his face, observed, "Success is stumbling from failure to failure, with no loss of enthusiasm."
And one final bit of advice: While you’re being unreasonable and challenging the status quo, achieving success – don’t forget to have fun along the way.
To the graduating class, congratulations on your accomplishments. Thank you for letting me be a part of your celebration. And good luck in making the most of the great opportunities ahead.