The pages that follow are the result of my personal experiences over primarily a six year period while I was a senior executive with Kohl’s, as well as the accounting of a dozen or so other executives I had the privilege of working with. While I was directly involved in almost all of the entries into new store markets in the mid to late 1990’s and thus have been able to draw on personal experience for much of the writing of this book, I am indebted to many people, both in and outside of the company, some former and current employees, who have encouraged me to put the Kohl’s story on paper.
If you had to categorize a book like this as being either authorized or unauthorized, well it is clearly in the second group. I did not, however, set out to write a kiss and tell. Remember, Milwaukee is a small town and I still interact with some of my former co-workers, on and off the golf course! But I do get into some things that are a bit controversial, recognizing that the mere self-publishing of this runs against the grain of the time honored tradition at Kohl’s of not rocking the boat. My intent was to write a fair accounting of the incredible and impressive rise, and eventual stall, of Kohl’s in a very competitive industry.
As the pages that follow will attest, the Kohl’s success story demonstrates that the combination of hard work, entrepreneurial spirit and adherence to an outstanding business model will always prevail. The rise of Kohl’s as a national powerhouse is a great testament that a new ‘concept’ in retailing, if executed properly, can do very well, even in today’s very crowded retail field.
On a macro level, I’d like to acknowledge the help and guidance provided me by three individuals, who have been my mentors over the years. All three have had an enormous influence on me, and how I approached the writing of this book.
Ken Werner has been my mentor all my adult life since I was 25. Ken was my first boss in the post-college real world, when he was an assistant store manager at a Gimbels store in Milwaukee and I was a newly-minted trainee in the men’s department. Recognizing early on that I didn’t know what I didn’t know, Ken has proceeded for the next 25 years to tell me what I needed to know so at least I now know some of the things I didn’t know! If this makes no sense to you, that’s OK. But when Ken reads this, he’ll get it. And isn’t that what’s really important in an Acknowledgement?
I worked for Gary Henkin at two different times while I was taking time off from being a student at the University of Virginia. At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Gary, as the co-founder of a start-up called Washington Tennis Services (now called WTS International), was my first true mentor who truly introduced me to the world of entrepreneurialism. As the Store Manager of The Olde Town Tennis Shop (part of the original WTS business model) at the ripe old age of 19, it is that location on South Union Street in Old Town Alexandria that I truly ‘caught’ the retail bug.
My Uncle Al, Major Alfred Grande, Jr., who after a twenty year stint in the Army became an entrepreneur and successfully started his own business (a printing and mailing company in Arlington, Virginia), has played a different role than mentor in my life, but who is someone, political ideologies notwithstanding, who I’ve admired greatly and who has had much more of an impact on my life than he’ll ever know. Well, maybe he knows now. Heck, he even introduced me to Fox News!
Sincere thanks go to the many former Kohl’s executives who are more comfortable being ‘off the radar screen’ than being acknowledged here individually for their contributions.
And, of course, sincere thanks are in order for Mike Valentino, from Cambridge Literary, who accepted my invitation back in 2001 to help me write and edit this book. It’s only taken six more years to pull it together and get this on my blog!
I compiled accountings of events, press releases, stock analysts reports and statistical data from dozens of sources and believe that the information herein is accurate. But please understand that this book wasn’t written as a doctoral thesis, so approach all the datapoints with this in mind. The vast majority of this book was written in 2001. In the weeks and months leading up to the self-publishing of this, I tried to add updates where appropriate.
And finally, heartfelt thanks are in order to my girlfriend Jen Ellis and the members in my immediate family who have been supportive in the writing of this book. Leaving the corporate mainstream and embarking on a new life at age 46, right about the time of the stock market crash and assorted other unsettling world events, has been an extraordinary experience. In the seven years since I left Kohl’s, I’ve been trying to go out there and enjoy the ride.