Editor’s Note: The following story first appeared in Cal State East Bay Magazine. Read the most recent magazine, The Food Issue; view more photos; and check out back issues online.
Janet Grove ’73 is enjoying a well-deserved rest after almost four decades stocking the floors of Macy’s — literally. As she worked her way through store management and merchandising at the national department store chain, Grove, CSUEB’s 2011 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year, went from getting goods on shelves to supervising the development of hundreds of products in Macy’s huge inventory.
Grove recently retired as corporate vice chair of Macy’s Inc., which operates approximately 840 stores, including Bloomingdale’s and online stores and outlets. But when Grove began work at Macy’s in San Francisco the summer after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business, the store was one of only 16 in the western division.
Growing up in Lafayette, Grove had an affinity for sales. Earning a college degree was a given in her family, but she was never passionate about school, though she did well in classes and enjoyed learning new things. “I was a busy, ambitious, outgoing kid,” she says. “I needed other challenges.”
To find them, she began working at Grodin’s, a men’s specialty clothing store, in her junior year of high school. When she started classes at then-Cal State Hayward, its central location was key. Like many students, then and now, Grove balanced several responsibilities, commuting between school, work, and her social life.
“I had a great experience,” she says. “I learned a lot and had great professors. I loved those years but did not have the traditional college life.”
She particularly enjoyed economics, statistics, and computer science, recalling the early computers that took up entire rooms and operated with punch cards, fed one at a time by hand — and a helpful classmate who would feed cards into the machines for her when she needed to leave for work in Walnut Creek.
With her background in haberdashery — an industry term for retail menswear — Grove aimed straight for Macy’s executive training program after graduation. Dean Terri Swartz of the College of Business and Economics sees Grove’s story as a prime example of the way CSUEB’s real-world focus helps students build on previous experiences to launch their careers. “She is a great role model for our students and a wonderful testament to hard work and seeking new challenges,” Swartz says.
Grove was working as a store buyer within two years, and at first envisioned that as a stepping stone to working for a consumer-focused clothing company or wholesale manufacturer. But as she advanced in store management and merchandising, eventually becoming a senior vice president, Grove realized she was thriving in the big, varied retail environment.
A large department store is its own complete business ecosystem, Grove explains, from computing to HR to finance to marketing. “It’s so multifaceted, it attracts large numbers of diverse talents,” she says. “There are so many paths to success.”
Her own path kept leading up. In the 1990s, Grove joined the national Macy’s Merchandising Group (MMG), becoming its chairman in 1998 and CEO in 1999. There she supervised the planning, development, and marketing of Macy’s in-house brands for women’s, men’s, and children’s apparel; accessories, lingerie, shoes, and jewelry; and home goods and housewares. These lines make up a significant portion of the company’s annual sales of $26 billion.
“Janet Grove is a wonderful example of how CSUEB impacts people, who in turn impact the world,” says Swartz.
But 38 years was enough; she officially retired from Macy’s in 2011 to make time for new experiences — like traveling for fun.
“When you work how we work in retail, you don’t get a lot of vacation, and there are no summers off,” Grove says cheerfully. “There may be lots of travel, but not vacationing.”
Now Grove is ready to revisit the world without the meetings. An avid golfer, she says trips to Ireland and Scotland are definitely on her new to do list. So is spending time with her family, still in California, and exploring the outdoors near her homes in Southern California and East Hampton, NY.
Grove also has served on the board of directors for Safeway Inc. grocery stores since 2004, and recently joined the board of advisors for ClubCorp, which manages golf courses, country clubs, and business clubs.
It was an exciting career, Grove reflects, in an industry that never stopped challenging her. She says she’d do it all over again and recommends the industry to the students out there like her — the ones looking for their own challenges. “Things change as generations change,” she says. “That’s what’s fantastic about retail, it’s always progressing.”