“You are always so bonded to your workplace,” said my sister, Jessie, in about 1982 or so. I had started working for Foley’s Department Store at their Houston headquarters after receiving my M.B.A from The University of Texas that prior December. I thought that was an odd comment. I loved my job, had a great manager and mentor, plus it was fun and challenging . My previous job had been managing two pet stores that were owned by men who were also supportive of me. I only left that position because I had been there ten years, there was no longer a future for learning, and so it was time to move on. I went to graduate school and was hired by Foley’s.
In those years, though owned by the old Federated Department Stores, Foley’s was still a local chain. “The” state wide chain of department stores that oozed a Texas ambiance. Macy’s tried to enter the market but fairly soon closed most of their stores. A Texas store understood the market, and Macy’s buyers and other executives didn’t. The C.E.O.s during my tenure at Foley’s were all Texans. Well-versed Texans with lots of retail background: Laskery Meyer and then John Utsey. I remember looking forward to the “Christmas Visit” that John Utsey always made. Sure, we in the stores freaked out a bit, but Mr. Utsey walked through the stores and said “Merry Christmas” to the salespeople and managers. I’m sure he may have talked a bit of shop with the store manager, but we had all worked very hard and “Good job and Merry Christmas” being said by the C.E.O. made it all seem worthwhile. The last time I may have heard that was in 1987. I left the company in 1988 when it changed into The May Company, and everything I had loved seemed to change. I no longer felt my skills counted, nor did I seem valued. I went back in 2001 and stayed until retirement in 2010, but I was just putting in time. I was no longer bonded to my company.
Rochelle, a person I have been interviewing for the last year, and whom I posted about last week on the Macy’s Alumni site, has worked for a large, privately held grocery store for only three months, and at her newly opened store for only three weeks. “I have more good news,” she told me last week. “My manager gave me a letter and it was from the head of the company. He told me what a great job I was doing.” I told her that was wonderful and immediately assumed it was a form letter. “I’ll bring it to the next interview,” she said. “I think I want to frame it. This is special.” I told her to bring it and I would get it framed properly for her.
“Here it is,” she said when she came for her weekly interview. This was not a form letter. This was a personal letter from the C.E.O of the grocery store, and it said, “Attached is a photograph of you with one of my favorite friends. Thanks for taking such good care of him when he was in your store recently. Although I have not yet visited your store, I hear great things about it. Thank you for taking such special care of our customers. All the best.” It was signed by the head of this major Texas grocery store chain. Enclosed was a photograph of Rochelle and the customer. He is a 95-year-old man who was with his son and buying beer “for the first time in twenty years,” Rochelle was told. The son took the photograph and sent it and a note to the C.E.O. When Rochelle checked out the 95 year old man at her register, she made sure to ask for his driver’s license. “ He absolutely loved that,” she said while laughing.
This is what builds company loyalty more than anything. A personal touch and the recognition of a job well done. It seems to have vanished as companies have merged into the behemoths they are today. John Utsey and Lasker Meyer, the C.E.O.s I knew at Foley’s, are now long gone. Foley’s became Macy’s. It is rare that hard work is recognized by such a letter except, occasionally, by a customer. I know I stopped being loyal and bonded to my company when the mergers and buyouts started happening in the late 1980s. As the companies grew larger, the commitment to the employees left as well. Rochelle is lucky to be working for a company that seems to understand good management practices. She is still new in the job. Her life is difficult, but I know that right now she is filled with pride in her work and good feelings toward the grocery store she works for. Building loyalty should be a huge company goal, and it is really so simple. As simple as “thank you,” “good job,” “Merry Christmas,” or a personal letter from high up the chain of command.
I do a weekly blog about my interviews with Rochelle called “Rochelle’s World: the life of a single Black mother in the culture of poverty.” She is paid for the interviews by my sister, Jessie, an anthropology professor. Last week’s and this week’s topic, however, relate directly to my experience working for Foley’s/Macy’s as well as to Rochelle’s experience in retail. I thought it relevant so have posted it directly to the Macy’s Alumni site as well as to the blog.