“We never had a CEO or somebody who was one man in charge. We were of one mind about the business.”
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Jack McMillan began his career at Nordstrom as a women’s shoe salesman in 1957 before eventually becoming the Co-President & Co-Chairman. Through his career, Jack learned the powerful lessons of unity in leadership as well as the redemptive power of Jesus Christ.
How do you stay centered on Jesus?
I have a commitment to pray, be in the Word, and meet with a few groups of guys who reinforce that in my life. We hold each other accountable, challenge each other, and are always honest with each other. In the mornings, the first thing I do is get up and thank the Lord for my life, for the day ahead of me, and counting my blessings instead of worrying about this and that.
Where do you find your purpose in work?
Well, to be honest, early in my career it began with pride and trying to prove myself. I worked really hard to prove to myself and my father-in-law that I was worthy and deserving. It was only after meeting Jesus in my 40s that my focus shifted from trying to please man to trying to please God which gave me a broader focus on life and I came to see my workplace as just another area of my life where I could serve the Lord. I sought to apply the principles of Jesus into my work and my relationship with Jesus broadened my perspective and ability to work with people.
What practices did the Nordstrom team develop to maintain unity?
We ate lunch together every day which helped us mull over all aspects of our lives including our families, friends, and business principles. Being in proximity with each other, we became more than coworkers but truly friends and brothers united by purpose. At the start of each year, we spelled out our goals, so we had as one mind what we were trying to accomplish. Before we moved on any major decision, we had to have a unanimous vote. Once in a while, someone would have an opposing view they were hanging on to fairly tightly. We wouldn’t move without unanimity except in rare circumstances when no other resolution could be found and it became clear that the majority needed to act. There was a true sense of wanting to be unified in every decision we made.
Nordstrom is famous for its emphasis on customer service. What steps did Nordstrom take to instill a service-oriented culture?
In 1971, we committed to making customer service our #1 goal for the year. Since then, we’ve committed to that same goal every year since. Every month, every region, store, and department within a store will hold recognition meetings to honor service. Everyone from regional heads to sales manager will honor team members who have gone above and beyond the call to serve the customer. Along with repeatedly affirming the value of service, we’ve chosen to align a significant part of our rewards and promotion system with customer service.
Along with recognition and rewards, we’ve come to realize the power of entrusting employees to do the right thing. We have only one employee rule: “Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.” Along with this, we’ve often repeated the mantra, “never say no to the customer” to guide our employees in their decision making.
What challenges did you face running a family business?
The obvious challenge is that within a family you have different work ethics, and if some of the family members want to coast, that can be very destructive to the progress of a business. Without striving for unity and aligning goals on a consistent basis, it would be even more challenging.
Another challenge we faced was succession. Over the years, we’ve learned that in order to succeed, we need to put the company above each of us as individuals in the same way that Jesus’ disciples did for the Gospel. This meant that each generation of Nordstrom leadership successively resigned from Co-Presidency and Co-Chairmanship to allow the next generation to take ownership.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to a young professional?
Find the desires of your heart. It took me two years at Nordstrom to love what I was doing. If you find you don’t love what you do, you’re shorting yourself and you’re shorting the business you’re operating in. You want to learn to love it.
How have you seen God work in your weaknesses or failures?
My primary failures have been as a husband and a father in my first marriage. My first marriage ended in divorce and my relationship with my eldest son has suffered as a result. Those are things that I’ve had to struggle with through the course of my life. I’ve learned that there’s a tremendous reservoir of empathy that Jesus has for people like you and I, and he’ll take your pain away if you let him.
A lot of these failures had to do with my overinvestment in my work. I was out to prove myself. That focus will get you ahead in business, but you will pay a price for it. I paid a big price for it in my interactions with my family. I don’t think I’m the only one out there who’s ever felt the need to prove him or herself. The fact that I was out of balance is a warning to others to remember balance and consider your spouse as your strongest asset. They need to be included in your life and in your decisions in ways that most of us aren’t used to doing as individuals.