Jody Bradshaw's book describes woman pioneer's rise in retail
Cinde Ingram -- Casual Living, August 18, 2010
Women in the home furnishings industry should pay attention to a new book by Joanna "Jody" Bradshaw, who blazed trails in the retail industry during the 1960s, '70s and beyond.
Jody, Bradshaw's first book is a fun read as she reflects with uncanny recall over the last seven decades of her life.
As she provides personal details of her childhood as a smart twin competing with her brother in their upscale Manhattan home, the reader begins to get a sense of her courage and zest for life. Bradshaw later convinced her parents it was OK for a young woman to work a summer job on Long Beach Island. With the money she made during her summer work, the teenager was able to pay for her first tour of Europe, which began an amazing journey she would continue throughout her retail career.
She describes her travels and triumphs as she surpassed expectations at some of the nation's top retail stores after starting her retail career at Bloomingdale's in August 1960.
In her mid-20s, she became a fashion coordinator as well as a buyer for Bloomies, as it was called at that time. Her buying trips took her on three-month trips abroad each year, making complete swings around Europe, each with different buyer or merchandise manager.
Bradshaw was one of the enterprising retail pioneers of the 1960s and '70s who maintained the belief women belonged in the workplace. She notes Marvin Traub, former chairman of Bloomingdale's, was one of many mentors early in her career. A management change resulted in a redirection when she ran into a new boss who thought promoting her as merchandise manager would be too stressful for a woman.
She moved on to become the first female corporate vice president of Macy's department store and later a highly successful turnaround executive in the retail industry. Along the way, she also worked with manufacturers, including Simmons, the well-known mattress maker.
During her stint with Simmons, Bradshaw ran into more bigotry and prejudice against women in business from her Atlanta neighbors for the short time she lived there. While those Southerners made life more difficult, she found acceptance from the displaced New Yorkers she worked with at Simmons. During a High Point Market, her team treated Simmons dealers to old-fashioned Southern fare at Kepley's Barn and started a tradition that celebrated Southern culture. But once again when the company's executive office changed hands, she was told no "broad" was capable of doing the job she had been handling so she was asked to leave.
From there, she returned to New York and her retail roots. She became president of Workbench. She traveled to High Point and Europe twice each year with buyers. In addition to shopping at the Furniture Fair in Milan, Italy and the Scandanavian Show in Copenhagen, her personal travels took her on adventures around the globe.
When her three-year term ended at Workbench, she returned to Federated Department Stores as a senior merchant in its Brooklyn-based A&S division. As she took on the task of as VP of merchandising for half of its Home Division, she oversaw the furniture, housewares, china and glass departments. Nine months later, she became the highest ranking woman merchandising executive in Federated. "I must confess that I felt a tremendous sense of vindication after having been told by A&S's sister store Bloomingdale's that I could never be a merchandise manager because I was a female," she wrote. "As a GMM, I was two levels higher than that, and at a larger Federated division."
In the book, Bradshaw shares stories of her personal successes, her opportunities to travel the world as a home furnishings merchandiser and her relationships with some of the country's leading retail icons. The stories of Bradshaw's personal tragedies, including two painful divorces, are laid bare, as well. She weaves all of her tales together with a thread of very real human emotion.
Bradshaw hopes her book will be an intriguing insight into the last five decades of retail history, as well as an inspiration for young women who continue to struggle in male-dominated industries. She recalls feeling like a retailing professor as she worked with her younger buying teams. Through this book, the woman with a mama-bear management style continues to teach readers how to overcome and succeed against the odds.
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