Michael R. Hawley
As I continue my series of profiles of people I have known forever, new acquittances, and people I think you would be interested in learning about…I have found several that have had major impact on my life and career…one such is Michael R. Hawley. I first met Michael when he came to Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago as Vice President and General Manager. He had just, extremely successfully, opened the Bloomingdale’s SoHo store. We had been without a Store Manager for quite some time and, of course, everyone was excited and a bit apprehensive as to who the new “guy” would be. (Just a Nena’s note, in the 53 years I was with the company I had 8 managers, my first, Howard J. “Hal” Clyne was my boss for 20 of those years. Some had very long terms, some very brief…before they left for “greener pastures” and most were 3-year stints. I must admit I can’t even recall all the ownership and Corporate changes. Let’s say I’m still a Gimbel girl at heart and am thrilled that the company is once again owned by a world-renowned retailer….Hudson Bay! Yay, Saks Fifth Avenue!) I must tell you Michael’s enthusiam was contagious…he wanted everyone to participate to their best ability as individuals and as a team and a team we continued to be. I wanted to have all our new Store Managers to feel comfortable not only in the Store but in their new City. I hope I helped him with his relocation, I do know we became good friends from the beginning. I always love that he tells everyone since he knew I was retiring in November of 2009, he decided to leave the company in August, it does make a good story, don’t you agree! It is with deep pleasure that I share his journey with you….enjoy his story….
MICHAEL, TELL US WHEN WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOUR TALENT
I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t fascinated by products and brands. I grew up in Cincinnati, the headquarters of Proctor & Gamble and Federated Department Stores, at the time. The stores were wonderlands of excitement. The sense of theater and showmanship had been key to the growth of the industry. Proctor & Gamble marketed the consumer brands in everyone’s homes. I taught myself to read, before starting school, by recognizing brand logos in the Yellow Pages. With that accomplished, I opened my first store at the age of 5 on our front porch. I don’t recall sales being brisk but I certainly enjoyed merchandising the store. It would seem that I have always been a retailer.
My first paying job, if one considers $1.90 per hour as being paid, was in a fine linen store, as box boy. Perhaps they had heard of my front porch success. I made gift boxes after school. Throughout high school and college, I continued to work in the store. Whenever a coworker went on vacation, I offered to learn their job. Through those years, I was exposed to all aspects of the business and was an eager student.
Here not only a great article but Michael’s career timeline. Chicago Tribune.
Many people in my family were very creative. I was in awe of the beauty of their art and their ability to create it. Having produced art projects in school that only a mother could love, I did not self identify as creative. After college I had the opportunity to move to San Francisco. I was quite confident that with my all my experience in the linen store that I would quickly be snapped up by one of big stores in need of my assistance. As you might imagine, it didn’t turn out quite like I expected. I was hired as holiday sales help in the silver department at Gump’s. It was a fascinating emporium of incredible merchandise from all over the world. They were legendary arbiters of good taste. As part of the interview process we were required to pass a taste test.
After Christmas, I was hired as an assistant buyer in the Crystal department. I was then promoted to my first job. I was responsible for the textile department, which meant handwoven Persian rugs and various tribal textiles such as camel trappings. The moths had plenty to eat. The company was in the process of finalizing plans for a major storewide event. My predecessor had committed to a “textile shop”. It was scheduled to open in six weeks…and nothing had been done including a workable concept.
I read everything I could find to learn about the rugs and learned about business conducted in the ways of the Middle East. I found a resource for the most incredible antique fabrics from a couple who dealt in antique couture. Although the individual pieces were beautiful as they were, they were not particularly saleable. I created a London “cushion” shop filled with beautiful one of kind pillows that retailed up to $1500. This is where I first recognized the creativity in myself. It became successful leading to four collections a year and having my responsibility extended to the lamp department. It was almost exclusively product that I designed and had made. I loved the whole process.
Michael gave me this magnificent textile pillow when he was Vice Presiden/General Manager of Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago. I treasure this magnificent addition to my pillow collection primarily because he made it and most of all that he thought enough of me to share his creation with me!
MICHAEL, WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU HAD “MADE IT”
I am not at all sure that we ever make it. There is always another mountain to climb and new challenges to conquer. One time that comes to mind was when I was interviewed by the New York Times. I had just opened a new store for Bloomingdale’s in SoHo as the General Manager.
Cover of Women’s Wear Daily for Bloomingdale’s SoHo Opening.
It was a very successful store opening and created a shift in the paradigm for the company. Reading about oneself in the NYT provided a certain feeling of having arrived http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/04/nyregion/public-lives-a-merchandise-snob-out-to-exceed-expectations.html Soon after being pursued by Saks Fifth Avenue for the Michigan Avenue store was also very flattering.
Chicago Magazine piece 2006
MICHAEL, HOW DID YOUR ORIGINAL PASSION BRING YOU TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW
I am a passionate guy. I can’t imagine spending a significant amount of time, let alone a lifetime, doing something for which I lacked passion. To do so would feel like my own personal hell.
My path has been far from linear. It does not look at all similar to what a career counselor describes to their soon to be college graduates. Early in my career, I failed to get whatever position I wanted at the time. I was open minded towards the opportunities, and trusted that it was in the company’s best interest to place me where they saw the greatest potential for success. I was willing to learn and one thing led to another. I just kept saying yes.
MICHAEL, WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN YOUR ALTERNATE CHOICE AS A CAREER….WAS THERE ONE
This is an excellent question. I was not someone with career angst. When I was young, I never considered doing anything else. Not once. Having any particular talent frankly did not occur to me. I just loved merchandise and never thought about another path.
There are two distinct roles as a retailer. Merchandising is one and management is the other. As my career developed, I found leading large teams very rewarding and I was good at it. The team at Saks Chicago numbered more than 300. I like to think that leading a store family helped me become a better person. There was no shortage of opportunities for me to learn the impact of my actions on others. As a leader, I believe it is my responsibility to understand what my team members need from me to be successful and then provide it. I want to make it fun and rewarding. Winning is fun.
Skin Dimemsoms Team.
I get to enjoy watching people achieve more than they believed possible and that provides immense satisfaction. If I had known then, what I know now, I would have studied Clinical Psychology and opened a private practice.
Cheering on the Bloomingdale’s SoHo team.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE BOOK, MOVIE, THEATER (BALLET, OPERA, SYMPHONY), TYPE OF MUSIC, LOCAL RESTAURANT/AND/OR TYPE OF FOOD
Beyond raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, I have a favorite everything. Just another aspect of life where my passion comes to play. I enjoy reading biographies. It is fascinating to learn about someone whose life may differ greatly from one’s own, yet beneath it all, we all have the same wants and needs. I just finished WAR PAINT, by Lindy Woodhead. The beauty industry that we know today was created in large part by two early entrepreneurs, Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein. The book was adapted for Broadway and I can’t wait to see it on my next trip to New York.
I don’t recall a time without music in my life. As a kid, I loved The Motown Sound. My taste has expanded and is rather eclectic. I listen to music everyday and love to sing. Following a brief stint in the choir at church, I now headline only in the shower or car. No thanks for this kindness is necessary.
Having fun at a black tie gala.
My favorite restaurant is Parachute on Elston in Avondale www.parachuterestaurant.com. Beverly and John have created a unique space with outstanding food drawing inspiration from Korean American cuisine. Their passion is apparent and we already know how I feel about that!
WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES
I am a genealogist. Frustrated about my family’s inability to answer my questions, I decided to do some research myself. This has developed into a 20 year never ending project that I have found incredibly fascinating and inspiring. We study history and learn what our culture has determined was so. Even family histories are biased and frequently revisionist. It is quite special to have some visibility into who were our ancestors as human beings and having enough knowledge to determine why they made the choices they made.
MICHAEL DESCRIBE YOUR HOME….MODERN, TRADITIONAL, ANTIQUES (WHAT ERA) ECLECTIC
My taste is rather eclectic and has evolved over time. It is primarily mid-century modern coupled with Asian antiques. After many years of collecting, I find, like many others, that I am editing, and quite happy doing with less. (Nena’s note, his home is exquisite!!)
MICHAEL’S FANTASY DINNER GUEST LIST
- Diana, Princess of Wales
- Forrest Trefz, maternal grandfather
- Jackie Onassis
- Jesus of Nazareth
- Joseph Hawley, 1603-1690, 9th GGF
- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
- Ray Hawley, paternal GF
- The Dalai Llama
- Thomas Jefferson
- Michael Hawley
I would serve Cincinnati Chili, of course.
I am mad for “original” recipes, Michael’s well used orginial copy from Cincinnati newspaper. Sounds yummy, enjoy!!!
MICHAEL’S FAVORITE VACATION SPOT VISITED AND WHERE HE WOULD LIKE TO VISIT
I most enjoyed a trip China several years ago. My list of destinations is quite long and includes, Antarctica, The Galapagos, and Mars.
HOW DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED
Ah, to be remembered at all is very special. It is important to me to have impact. I want to be remembered as a person of contribution. I am one of the founders of BEAUTYKIND, www.beautykind.us, an online retailer. Our mission is to provide a more meaningful way to shop for beauty products. We donate 5% of the purchase price to a charity of the customer’s choice. It is an idea whose time has come.
One of my charities of choice is charity: water. While I was running Saks, I challenged the team to build a well. I am very proud to share that we built it in Eritbo, Ethiopia. It provides 400 people with water everyday that they would not otherwise have. Link to our well https://vimeo.com/4247997
Michael’s grandparents, his grandfather, the well driller.
MICHAEL’S FAVORITE CHICAGO PUBLIC ART PIECE
Chicago Botanic Gardens is one of my favorite places anywhere. The property is so beautifully designed and executed, I could spend eternity there.
SOME BLOGS MICHAEL FOLLOWS
I am obsessed with wellness and self improvement. I read Well + Good www.wellandgood.com, The Fine Line and A Mishfit Life www.mishfitlife.com and, of course, www.nenasnotes.com.
My current most favorite photo of Michael taken in New York.
All photos courtesy of Michael R. Hawley with the exception of the pillow photo courtesy of it’s proud owner, Nena Ivon!