Chapter Two - Building The Team: A Trio, Then a Quartet

To best understand how the management component of Kohl’s incredibly successful retail concept was formed and developed over the years into what was considered world-class and the envy of so many of it’s competitors, one really need to go back and examine the extraordinary, yet at times, unremarkable, leadership skills of the head guy.When I was conducting my own due diligence on Kohl’s back in 1993 before eventually joining in the summer of 1994, I called around and spoke to people who had previously been with the company or who had some inside scoop on the key players of the company.Here are the brief descriptions taken from my notes that I wrote back then on Bill Kellogg:–“like a Sam Walton”–“a true gentleman”–“by far the easiest to work with”–“very down to earth”–“has lived a simple life”–“tries to stay close to the customer”Having had the opportunity of seeing Bill Kellogg in action, the above descriptions were really right on. Frankly, when I first got to know him, I was initially befuddled that Bill was the CEO of this fast-growing company. To be blunt, he just doesn’t dazzle you. Sure, when you realize he’s worth $1.5 billion, that’s impressive. But almost hard to believe. Still, if you buy the argument of late that ‘great’ companies aren’t run by flashy dynamos, then Bill Kellogg was a great example to support your point. He’s decidedly low-key, somewhat self-effacing, and clearly tries to stay off the radar screen.In the years that I’ve observed Bill, one thing about him has stood out and, in a very real way, has defined who this man really is. Bill had a undeniably strong commitment to people, most notably the folks in the trenches. You hear that accolade about business leaders a lot these days, but in many cases it is just a cliché. Not with Bill. This is a guy who, in the early years, would go to McDonald’s on the way to one of the stores, buy a couple bags full of hamburgers, and give them to all the sales associates upon his arrival! He clearly had a sense of purpose to treat his employees well, to always be attentive to the customer, and to reward those people who had confidence in us and invested their money in his company. That commitment became the heart of Kohl’s corporate culture and it has been evidenced throughout his tenure at the helm.When relating to the executives at the corporate offices, Bill always went out of his way to make us remember that we had a duty to listen to the needs of the customer. He would also encourage all of us to “take care of your people.” This was most evident as one of the quarterly meeting was coming to a close. After the key speakers had reviewed our recent performance (quarterly management boards that bonuses would largely hinge on), the microphone would then be handed over to Bill. The low key CEO would invariably open up with an observation about all the great talent that was assembled in the room, and identify some of the recent hires and their expected future contributions. When the meeting was finally coming to a close, Bill would always pause, look around at all of us, and say, “Remember, take care of your people.” It reminded me of a scene straight out of old reruns of “NYPD Blue” and “Hey, be careful out there”!In my opinion, all of this was part of the brilliance of Bill Kellogg. Later in his career, when the Kohl’s business model seemed unstoppable, Bill was in so many ways the perfect guy to oversee it all. Somewhere along the way he recognized that the continued success of the company was dependent on his ability to bring in great talent in the top positions, and allow them to grow and establish themselves, and take on greater positions of leadership. He increasingly took a back seat as the Executive Committee filled out, and the succession plan took shape. He truly, truly let his team run the show.Was Bill the most effusive, affable CEO the world has ever known? Clearly not. For example, he rarely walked the corporate offices just to ‘touch’ people (except for Christmas Eve), and he barely ever met anyone in the stores, particularly in new markets. To be sure, he was kind of a shy guy. I know that may sound like an incongruity for people on the outside looking at the leader of a hugely successful retailer, but that was the beauty of the business model: the success of Kohl’s was not based on the sizzle of a hot-shot celebrity CEO. A former executive with the company said it best: “With Bill, it was never an ego thing. In a lot of ways, he was the opposite of what most people expect to see in a leader of a large company. I mean, the guy was amazingly low-key! He really disliked confrontation. But, man, he really knew how to bring together a team.”The need to do just that – bring together a team –was top of mind in 1988 when Kellogg took stock and evaluated the state of his company. To be sure, things were quickly changing at Kohl’s. There were so many events that were rewriting the company’s future. First there was a management-led leveraged buyout, followed soon thereafter by a major recapitalization allowing for the purchase of a company that more than doubled revenues overnight. Bill Kellogg and his management team began to develop a new business model that was the beginning of what became one of the most successful models in the history of retailing.During this time, Kellogg began to take note of a young and fast-growing company based in California, owned by Minneapolis-based Target. It was a department store group called Mervyn’s, and it appealed to a more upscale customer than the (at the time) discount Target. While Target’s primary focus was on hardgoods, Mervyn’s placed far greater emphasis on apparel for everyone in the family: Mom, the primary shopper, her kids and husband. It was like a bell went off in Kellogg’s head. What intrigued him most was the vast potential of the Mervyn’s model. He had the vision to realize that this chain was well positioned to please the vast masses who represent middle America – not too high end, yet not too low brow. That middle ground was almost empty on the retail landscape. And business abhors a vacuum just as much as nature does.In addition, part of the strategy was to attract customers with national brands, much like a traditional department store, but at lower price points. Back in those days Target was trying to create a niche for a new kind of customer. They wanted to carry established name brands, but sell them more cheaply than traditional department stores.In a move that would have profound implications for the rest of his career and the future of his company, Bill Kellogg became a student of Mervyn’s, and even traveled to the West Coast to visit stores with his management team to better understand their business model. The more and more they evaluated Mervyn’s, they became convinced that most of the main components of their model could be successfully migrated to the Midwest and eventually implemented in the Kohl’s stores.Kellogg recognized he needed two key senior executives to help carry out his vision. These executives would have to complement his own strengths, and position the company for growth. First he needed an operator. And then he needed a merchant.And quickly to follow, Kellogg knew he needed to bring in a guy who could be in the on-deck circle when things started to take off.JOHN HERMAJohn Herma joined Kohl’s as Director of Human Resources in 1980, and was elevated by Bill Kellogg to Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer in 1986, the same year as the leveraged buyout. A New Yorker who grew up in Brooklyn, in his life before Kohl’s Herma held senior executive positions on the East Coast, notably with Gimbel Department Stores.When I was Director of Stores at Los Angeles-based Bullock’s in the late 1980s, I was introduced to a management adage that has stuck with me ever since. Sue Graham, the Store Manager of the South Coast Plaza Bullock’s, one of the highest-volume department stores in California, would often exhort her fellow associates in the store to “inspect what you expect.” This meant a truly hands on approach to management. You set clearly defined goals, then carefully inspect the results to see if those goals are being met. In working in a management capacity in a retail store, it’s all about the journey and almost never about the destination. You can work your tail off and get the store in great shape, but all it takes is a major sale day or a busy Saturday afternoon and the store is trashed. And then you have to repeat the fundamental task and get the store back to the high standards you’ve established for yourself and your associates. The process repeats itself, over and over and over again. It’s not complicated science, but to truly succeed at it, a manager needs to constantly walk the talk. Basic blocking and tackling. Keep it simple. Constant. Repetitive. Execution.From my vantage point while I was with Kohl’s, John Herma epitomized the business leader who embraced the adage “inspect what you expect.” He had a passion about establishing measurable objectives, and then devoting whatever time necessary to ensure that those standards were maintained. In describing John’s managerial style and the contributions he made to the success of Kohl’s, former direct-reports (i.e., his immediate subordinates) call attention to his “constantly listening to the needs of the customer.” In his early years with the company, John would frequently go out to one of the local Milwaukee stores during a Saturday afternoon or during a major sale and for hours he’d watch the flow of customers checking out at the registers. He would take lots of mental notes, then come to work on Monday morning and haul people into his office to discuss what he saw, and explore ways to make the customers’ shopping experiences more efficient, and more enjoyable. He focused on the operational issues in the stores, such as the length of lines or how long it took to complete a transaction. He would also zero in on real, everyday situations, such as the difficulty of an associate to find the right box size for the cookware she just sold to the customer.For example, when he received feedback that the number of customers waiting in line at the register were exceedingly high too much of the time, Herma advocated a customer service policy of “no more than two in line.” If that number was exceeded, an ‘88’ is called out over the loudspeaker and an additional associate should swiftly open up a new register. And when new policies such as these were implemented, procedures were put in place to “inspect what you expect” to insure compliance.Herma did what too few executives are willing to do. He spent a large portion of his time as the guy who rolled up his sleeves, delved into the ‘guts’ of the business, broke down all the processes into manageable parts, and then explored ways to simplify, improve and make less costly. It was a hands on kind of style that he never felt was “beneath him,” and he wasn’t willing to shirk these duties or assign them to a subordinate. The payoff was tangible. A vast accumulation of knowledge about the inner workings of the store.In one of the few times he was quoted for a magazine article, when describing the Kohl’s business model, Herma said: “We do 20 simple things that have impact when taken together. The key is the consistency of the execution.”His style of micromanagement was best summed up by one of his colleagues, who described him as “the toughest guy of the group to work with, but only with the people who work for him.”It’s true that not everyone in the company liked John Herma. He could be, in many instances, quite challenging. Yet, for whatever reason, I took a liking to John, and I think he made sincere efforts to support me in my role. I think toward the end, when it became apparent that Bill was not going to hand the CEO baton over to him, John appropriately pulled back. But he was not the type to lust after power. Instead, he kept the company’s best interests in mind, as well as his own.John had great conviction about the viability of Kohl’s new business model, as evidenced by getting extended lines of credit on his largest personal asset, his home, so that he could maximize his equity position in the new business venture. Talk about commitment! And in the end, it was worth it. The taking of that kind of risk during the LBO reaped enormous benefits for John and his family. While he has clearly lived the more quiet, ‘simple’ life like his partner Bill Kellogg, he, like the rest of the group, upon retirement, has treated himself for all that hard work.As a legacy, above and beyond all of the other significant contributions he made to the early success of Kohl’s, John Herma will be best remembered from my vantage point as the person who most exemplified ‘low-cost culture’ in the company. Unlike previous experiences, all of us at Kohl’s felt like we were working toward a common goal. From the CEO on down, you generally felt that everyone was being attentive to expense management. If we all traveled coach and stayed at budget hotels, we knew that genuinely improved our chances of ‘maxing’ the year-end team bonus. Along with the help of Arlene Meier, who later would replace Herma as COO, an emphasis was placed on the proactive planning of expenses in plenty of time to make it all work. Sure, we would zig and zig a bit when business got tough to pull out a month, but there was so much planning that you never felt we were out of control and pulling things out of a hat. There was a simple, understandable game plan. And John Herma’s role was to insure that selling, general and administrative expenses were leveraged as the company grew.JAY BAKERBorn and raised in Flushing, New York, Jay Baker, like so many other successful retailers, had exposure to the business of selling merchandise in a family business. Following graduation from the University of Pennsylvania in 1956, he had a two-year stint with the U.S. Army. Following his discharge from the armed forces, Baker entered the Macy’s training program in 1958. He went on to assume several assignments at a number of retailers in both merchandising and storeline positions in the 1960s and 1970s. Notably, he was a general merchandise manager at the Famous-Barr division of May Co. in St. Louis, was later director of stores and general merchandise manager at Saks Fifth Avenue in New YorkIn the early 1980s Baker became head of the BATUS Thimbles division, and once that business model started to stall, headed the BATUS corporate buying office for Gimbel’s, Marshall Field’s and Kohl’s. It was during this job that he first made contact with Bill Kellogg.Jay Baker was approached by Kellogg and joined Kohl’s in 1986 and quickly positioned himself as the head merchant, overseeing both the general merchandising and marketing functions of the company.Jay’s arrival at Kohl’s was a timely one. A former member of the Kohl’s Executive Committee in the 1980s put it this way: “Bill really didn’t recognize the merchandising needs of the company. It wasn’t until Jay came on board before the merchandise buying decisions started to really make sense.”Here’s some of the bullet descriptions of Jay Baker that I wrote down back in 1994 when I was researching my own job opportunity with Kohl’s:–“an incredible merchant, really knows how to get customers in the store”–“aggressive, highly motivated”–“very opinionated, can be difficult, at times mercurial and loud”–“has an extraordinary love of the game”–“protective of his own team, will take shots at the other guys, particularly the stores"Say whatever you want about Jay Baker, the man has a passion for retailing. Just picture this veteran aggressive New Yorker coming into a Midwestern company whose interaction was more civil than it was confrontational. But at the end of the day, people who worked around Jay were more than a little thankful that he was on their team and not the other guy’s team. With Jay, you knew you were going to win.When Jay came on board, he filled a major void. While the company had enjoyed limited success in recruiting some general and divisional merchandise managers from other companies over the years, up until that point Kohl’s had never really had a top-shelf merchant with a national reputation. Clearly, the timing was right for Jay. He had had some success in his prior assignments, but certainly no homerun. Once he arrived, they got very aggressive buying merchandise, and promoting it. In the chapters that follow, we’ll see how he was the most instrumental person in the history of Kohl’s to negotiate the carrying of national brands critical to the success of the business model. Jay Baker successfully enticed well-known brands to the company including Nike, Levi’s, Lee, Dockers, Reebok, Champion, Sketchers, Mudd, Calphalon, and many, many others.Jay Baker steadfastly maintained a vigorous routine to his workday. It involved a repetition of the fundamentals. Over the years I’ve seen senior executives grow weary of the routine, and eventually lose their enthusiasm and dedication to the business. Not so with Jay; he had a never-ending passion for retail, and thrived on the success of Kohl’s. Perhaps the spoils of victory were that much sweeter because in all the years leading up to his joining Kohl’s, he had never had The Big Hit.As an aside, The Big Hit is hitting a huge, towering financial homerun; this was a term I picked up many years ago from a former Macy’s CEO I used to work with, Art Reiner (who over the years no doubt has had some doubles and triples along the way, and continues to work as CEO of the Finley jewelry company).There are two parts of Jay’s routine that I will most remember. In many ways, they defined his personality as well as the culture of Kohl’s.A significant portion of Jay’s workweek involved participating in meetings with his key merchants and the advertising team to review the ad copy they were preparing. These "blue-line meetings” were opportunities to review an upcoming advertisement in its later stage, prior to going to press. In strict advertising jargon, a blue-line is a temporary, one-color proof made directly from the film on the printing press. It is used as a final proofing device right before the film goes to press, producing millions of ‘rotos,’ or inserts. These would be placed in Sunday newspapers in markets where Kohl’s had stores.Jay Baker was zealous in his active and passionate involvement in the creation of all of the printed, and later other media (radio and TV) advertising material at Kohl’s. He would spend hour upon hour reviewing every item on every page, challenging price points and inventory levels (or “prep,” for preparation), on the models he was shown. Says a former divisional merchandise manager who attended hundreds of these meetings with Baker over the years: “Jay always wanted to convey value and brands to the customer. He always drove us as merchants to promote aggressively. Those meetings could often get loud, so you just didn’t want to go in there without a lot of prep(i.e., substantial inventory to ‘support’ the ad) and great price points.”As will be discussed in more detail in a further chapter, one merchant who worked for Jay all those years was deeply affected by his boss’ ‘hands-on,’ methodical approach to advertising. Kevin Mansell, who was a senior hardgoods merchant when Jay joined Kohl’s in 1986, learned from the master and was well-prepared to take over the reins when Jay retired. The baton was passed, and the thoughtful, sometimes plodding process of preparing the Kohl’s advertising continued in much the same way as those early days.Another defining aspect of Jay’s was his routine of visiting stores, particularly on Saturday afternoons, following a morning at the corporate offices. Here’s the typical scenario: Bill, Jay and John would get into the offices on Saturdays around 9:00 a.m., look over the numbers from the previous week, meet with some of the senior management team in informal sessions, and then generally head out around noon or 1:00 p.m. Bill would tend to lay low the rest of the day, unless it was a big sale day. John would visit a couple of stores, though in the last couple of years he was there, this tailed off.Jay, on the other hand, maintained a routine that was extraordinarily consistent. While he would often visit one of a number of stores in the Milwaukee area as his first stop (usually either Waukesha, West Allis, Brookfield or Southridge), he almost always visited the Bayshore store, located just on the western edge of Whitefish Bay, part of the ‘northshore’ of Milwaukee suburbs. The store was located about a mile away from Jay’s home on Lakeshore Drive. The events that took place at that store on Saturday afternoons go down in the annals of Kohl’s folklore.At the time of Jay’s tenure at Kohl’s, the Bayshore store was older and tired-looking compared to the new prototypes we were churning out in all the new markets. It was clearly a problem store: we had a tough time retaining both management and highly productive sales associates. In addition, there was a formidable group of ‘old-timers’ who were incredibly resistant to change, much less raising the bar with respect to customer service and selling floor maintenance standards. They were part of the original gang that had managed to negotiate some sweetheart arrangements with respect to schedules, responsibilities and overall expectations. (Note: More so than perhaps any other store I was directly responsible for over my primarily storeline management career, the Kohl’s Bayshore store brought me back to 1983 when I was the assistant store manager of the Macy’s Herald Square store, which was unionized. During my first week there, I was ‘written up’ by a union steward for not calling in a ‘stand-by’ while I was bringing some new merchandise arrivals to the selling floor and placing the merchandise on the fixtures; see, the union had negotiated with management an agreement that if a manager wanted to ‘merchandise’ the floor [i.e., touch the goods] they would have to have a sales associate come up and literally ‘stand by’ the manager. Have you ever heard of anything so idiotic? Well, if you’ve ever been associated with some of the dynamics of a labor union, you probably have. But I digress….).Needless to say, it was a tough store to manage and to establish and maintain high standards on the selling floor and at the checkout areas. Jay would come in toward the end of typically the busiest day of the week, and he was often greeted with merchandise on the floor and long lines at the registers. Jay would walk the floor, get upset, then track down the Store Manager and rip into him (or her). Since this store was such a hotspot, the Store Manager reported directly to a Regional Manager (instead of a District Manager), who during my many years at Kohl’s was me, so I often was in the store when Jay would make his visit. Once he’d let things off his chest, he’d then cool down, go around the racetrack again with the store’s management team and then head home. It was during those walk-throughs that we would try to make observations that would later help us think of ways to better serve the merchandising and in-stock needs of the customer.Often, Jay would contact the Director of Stores, Larry Montgomery, and preach about how the stores were really letting the company down, that the merchants had done such a good job procuring the goods, and here we are at Bayshore not capitalizing on all that hard work.It didn’t raise its ugly head all that often, but during times like these Jay would get really uppity about the value of “the merchants” and begin to talk down and belittle “the store guys.” It was kind of an East Coast mentality (one that he no doubt refined when he was with Gimbel’s) that permeated the cultures of department stores in the 1970s and 1980s. With companies like May Department Stores or Federated Department Stores, the yin and yang of merchants vs. storeline is legendary. These store groups have historically been run by merchants, who tended to be less appreciative of the work of the store guys.Kohl’s, on the other hand, had been run by a guy, Bill Kellogg, who started in the trenches in the store, and related to the hard work of the sales associates and executives who worked nights and weekends when the customer was there. The environment was not conducive for Jay to take potshots at the stores while he was in the corporate office; he only let it rip when he was out in the stores. And Bayshore became his vessel to vent.Fortunately for me, Larry was great when it came to deflecting Jay’s criticisms of the local Milwaukee stores. He would let the criticism stop with himself. He would absorb it rather than send it up the chain of command. He was the kind of guy who rarely would ruin your Sunday afternoon with an “emergency” phone call; in fact, I’m sure there were times when Larry would check his office voicemail from his cell phone while he and I were playing golf and hear a “Jay Rant” and not even tell me about it. Usually, I would hear about a ‘Jay Sighting’ from one of my Store Managers or District Managers, and not from Larry.While often mercurial and not always the most pleasant to be around, Jay Baker was highly respected in the retail industry. He was viewed as a fair negotiator and a very knowledgeable merchant. Paul Charron, the former CEO of Liz Claiborne, has said of Baker: “I can’t think of another merchant I respect as much as Jay Baker. When you shake hands with him, it’s a deal.”In summary, Jay Baker is best noted for making some of the most important and everlasting imprints on the now famous Kohl’s business model. In the chapters that follow, you’ll see how his passion to provide customers with branded merchandise at terrific values in a pleasant shopping environment permeated the core values of the company.LARRY MONTGOMERYFollowing the hiring of John Herma and Jay Baker and the subsequent leveraged buyout in 1986, Bill Kellogg and his team made gradual steps toward implementing their collective vision of the new retail concept. They soon recognized a need to bring in another key executive who could help run the stores and assist in the further development of the business model.Through an executive search company, Bill Kellogg was introduced to Larry Montgomery and offered him the position of Senior Vice President – Stores. It was the beginning of an extremely successful partnership.Here are the brief descriptions made by others about Larry Montgomery when I was on fact-finding missions prior to joining Kohl’s in 1994:–“people like him very much”–“he walks, eats, works fast”–“great golfer, very competitive”–“not ruthless, but will eventually get marginal performers out”–“it’s hard to keep up with him”One of the ways I can help describe what it was like working for Larry is to set this up by telling a story. I once had a boss way back when I had earlier worked in Milwaukee for Gimbel’s Midwest. His name was Tony Cusatis, and he was a fiery Italian who, as the company’s top store manager expected, demanded, extremely high selling floor standards. Mr. Cusatis was famous for his oft-repeated line, “could be better.” He would occasionally pat someone on the back for a job well done, but it was always “could be better.”Working for Larry is a lot like that, although he rarely said the words to the effect of “could be better.” You just knew it could be better! If you’re looking for someone who’s into verbal positive feedback and pats you on the back for a job well done, he’s not your guy. But if you earned a spot and became a member of Larry’s team, and part of the inner circle (but not the inner sanctum: that was reserved for a couple of very close friends and relatives), you were incredibly well-treated. Larry took care of you, and you felt special. For these reasons, and obviously the success and momentum of the company during the 1990’s, Larry was able to recruit and retain many of the top retail executives in the industry during that decade.On the other hand, if you were not on Larry’s team, it wasn’t a whole lot of fun. In some respects there was a lot of positioning to be on the right side of all this, and, like most other companies, things got pretty political. Especially as the company began rapidly expanding, there were some people who couldn’t keep up, and there were certain people who protected other people. It never got too ugly, really, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing either.Unlike his boss Bill Kellogg, Larry did attend college, at Michigan State, playing briefly on the football team. Following his time in college, he eventually landed in retail with Block’s, a smaller division of Allied Stores Group, ascending to President and Chief Executive Officer in 1985. In 1987, Montgomery joined a division of May Department Stores, Indianapolis-based L.S. Ayers, as Senior Vice President – Director of Stores. About a year later, he moved over as Senior Vice President, General Merchandise Manager – Softlines, and soon thereafter, met with Bill Kellogg and joined Kohl’s in 1988.Larry is an extremely competitive individual, and attracts people with a similar passion about winning. There is no better example to illustrate this than sharing my experiences with Larry with his beloved game of golf. I will be forever grateful to Larry for introducing me to it. After I joined Kohl’s in 1994, Larry started to invite me to play with him at his club on Saturday afternoons following our work in the morning (it was standard operating procedure for Larry’s direct reports and some of the merchants in the buying division at corporate to work on Saturdays). I was a terrible golfer at first, but Larry was gracious in continuing to invite me to play in his foursome. I started to take a few lessons and over time my handicap got down to the mid-teens. But from the get-go, we always had some kind of competition on the course. It was nerve-wracking, to say the least. We started with smaller stakes, like dinner at the restaurant of the winner’s choosing, or a bottle of wine, something like that. But eventually, the stakes went up, particularly when Larry’s younger brother Dan and one of the then top regional store guys and one of my direct-reports, Beryl Buley, came into town. One weekend while we were all playing, someone came up with the bright idea of having a summer long, best of five tournament. We would play at different locations throughout the Midwest as we traveled and visited stores.We had great fun planning the rules of the contest and setting up the ‘prizes’ for this event. We played for some crazy things. One year we agreed that the losers would have to shave their heads, but Larry quickly reconsidered well before the first match, no doubt realizing that as Vice Chairman it might be a little tough walking into Monday morning’s Executive Committee meeting and explaining away a bald head. Instead, a new prize was set up: losers would pay for first-class accommodations with a weekend trip for the foursome to whatever golf resort location in the United States chosen by the winners. We headed out to Pinehurst, North Carolina, a few months later and we had the great experience of playing No. 2 just a couple of weeks before the U.S. Open, won that year by Payne Stewart.Perhaps the most memorable contest within our foursome was that one summer we played for tattoos. The deal was if you lost, it had to be at least the size of a quarter, but you could put it anywhere on your body. Fast forward to the end of that summer and I have a small tattoo of an orange burst Gibson Les Paul guitar (I’m a collector of vintage electrics, mostly). Beryl is still in corporate mainstream, so I’ll let him tell his story of the ifs, whens and wheres of his tattoo. Pretty high stakes, if you ask me.I have always been skeptical about the saying that you can learn a lot about a person by playing golf with them. That clearly was concocted by a low handicap golfer! But to know Larry is to recognize his undying love for the game of golf. The game, and all of the pageantry surrounding it, is a significant part of his life.What’s Larry’s game like? Well, he has a short backswing. While he can be erratic off the tee, he’s quite straight with his irons and very adept at the bump and run. He’s an excellent putter, particularly the long ones. He plays very fast. He’s quite good at getting into your head. And he rarely loses when he’s playing for something.Soon after arriving at Kohl’s in 1988, Montgomery was faced with the daunting task of incorporating the MainStreet stores into the Kohl’s organization. It was a massive undertaking. Says one executive still working at the company who was part of that merger: “It was complete and total running by the seat of our pants. We had a brief period of time to plan for the transition. First we interviewed all the Mainstreet Store Managers and Assistant Store Managers and decided who could handle our culture and who couldn’t. We then tried to get them up to speed. The merchants prepared to clear out all the merchandise we didn’t want and bring in some of the blockbuster deals they had purchased for the re-Grand Opening. It was an exciting time, but incredibly chaotic.”On the first day they opened with the name Kohl’s on their buildings, there was pandemonium in the stores. Customers flocked to all the great savings, only to discover that the newly-installed point-of-sale systems crashed, creating some of the longest customer lines in the history of retailing. Said an executive: “The deals were so terrific that no one wanted to leave them behind. So people stayed in line, unbelievably. We had lines with over 100 people at each register. It was more out of control than anything I’ve ever seen.”People who worked with Larry during that time remember him as cool under pressure, hard-working and driven to raise the bar and get it right. The organization quickly recovered from the incredibly strong opening of the former MainStreet stores, and soon found themselves operating as a much larger company, with stores located in over ten states.By the time Larry hired me in 1994, he had been promoted a year earlier to Executive Vice President – Director of Stores. Yet at the time, the leaders of the company were the original trio: Bill Kellogg, John Herma and Jay Baker. Management referred to the company as “Bill, John and Jay.” It wasn’t long, however, that the extraordinary leadership skills and charisma of Larry Montgomery changed that.In March, 1996, Larry was promoted to Vice Chairman. It was now Bill, John, Jay. And Larry.In February, 1999, Larry was promoted to Chief Executive Officer. He continued to serve as vice chairman and a member of the Board of Directors.And in March, 2003, he finally took the final baton from Bill Kellogg, and added the title of Chairman, roles that he continues to serve as of the date of this publishing.