Anyone with the ambition of making massive moves in retail build-outs would drool at Kathleen Jordan’s track record. Quite simply, Jordan has worked on behalf of anyone who is anyone in retail. Even before stepping into the vice president of store design, planning, and construction role at Neiman Marcus Group almost a year ago, Jordan had established herself as one of the premier thinkers in the retail space.
Gucci, Adidas, Barneys, the NBA, the NHL, HBO (whose tiny shop won “Store of the Year” in 2007), Microsoft, and American Girl are just the starters. If you were astounded by the design of a store in Manhattan, you could flip a coin and figure the likelihood of Jordan’s involvement.
So why, after all this time (including 23 years with Gensler), would Jordan elect to go in-house for a single organization? “For the last 10 years, I have been pushing into the strategy space, focusing on placemaking and the 360-view of retail that is about more than just environment,” Jordan says. “Architects get handed a project to bring to life. That wasn’t enough anymore. I’ve been blessed with a career where I’m happy to wake up and go to work every day, and I wanted to make this last decade or so of my career as fun as it has been up to this point.”
Jordan resigned. She figured she’d spend some time working on artsy projects around the house, just enjoying life. After she gave notice, she let Neiman Marcus, whose relationship with Jordan dates back decades, know that she was around if it needed her. Her extended sabbatical barely lasted two months.
The role Neiman Marcus was offering Jordan was too much to pass up, because she’d no longer have to worry about pulling any punches. “I had no interest to go to a retailer and have them tell me no,” Jordan explains. “I wanted someone who was up for a challenge and willing to change and break some rules. Neimans was all in.”
It’s been less than a year, but Jordan is currently overseeing nine active remodels. More than that, she’s helping steer a larger ship, at the behest of President and Chief Customer Officer David Goubert. Jordan says her aesthetic and strategic alignment with Goubert is something closer to mind-melding. She’s able to move projects forward with the full confidence that she’s moving in lockstep with the president.
Jordan’s wider purview has allowed her to venture into areas that would have previously seemed out-of-bounds for someone in her role. She has a seat at the table for the company’s larger brand identity refresh and has gotten intimately involved with the company’s in-store art strategy. She’s even branching into the digital space.
To get a sense of Jordan’s confidence and vision, take her recent partnering with Neiman Marcus merchandise managers in helping how they approach brand partnerships, be it a small end cap or a massive pop-up event.
“When we invite brands into our stores, we need to think of it like a friend coming to stay at our house,” Jordan explains. “When you go visit a friend, you don’t remodel the bedroom they let you sleep in. I want to make sure that the broader Neiman experience is the focus.”
It’s exactly the kind of certainty that you want from someone who is helping redefine and reemphasize the power of a brand. Jordan is the all-seeing eye of what makes a store experience special, and how to achieve the best return on investment when it comes to both customers and Neimans employees alike.
As she’s progressed in her career, Jordan has also become a sought-out resource for those trying to navigate their own careers, and for good reason. The VP was able to navigate motherhood and a successful 30-plus year long career, not to mention a passion for life that seems kinetic even over the phone.
Jordan admits the design industry is a tough one, but she wants to inspire those more junior in their career to find experiences that will truly fulfill them. “Don’t look for the money,” Jordan imparts. “Don’t look for the title. Look for something that intrigues you, excites your curiosity, and follow it. The money will come, but as long as you’re true to yourself, you’ll be in a good place.”
Design work, the VP explains, affects the public at large. You’re creating things that people might see every day, or encounter for the very first time. Every decision is a chance to bring people joy or disappointment. That shouldn’t be pressure, it should be inspiration.
Five Ways to Flourish
Kathleen Jordan has a few tidbits for those looking to build their own careers in the design world.
- Make yourself indispensable. Rise to the occasion when asked and say yes more than no—you may learn a lot in the process, even if it’s not “sexy” work.
- Don’t be a “jumper.” You need to show stability, rather than be someone who changes jobs every one-to-two years. However, leave when you see no professional growth potential, or you’ve learned all you can from the position you’re in (and have no opportunity for advancement to something new).
- Be patient—with both yourself, and the company.
- Ask LOTS of questions. There are no stupid questions, only impatient colleagues.
- Find mentors. Simple as that.