Terry Lundgren’s strategy and execution behind Macy’s transition from Chapter 11 to a retail powerhouse

When Terry Lundgren was first approached by Macy’s in 1993, the retail company was bankrupt. Lundgren, who was chairman and CEO of Neiman Marcus at the time, was asked to come to New York to help turn around the company.

However, Lundgren had little interest in joining an insolvent company, especially since he had a good thing going at Neiman Marcus in Dallas.

With Lundgren’s ties to Neiman Marcus and his previous ties to Federated Department Stores as a former president and CEO of Bullocks Wilshire, executives at Federated persuaded Lundgren to come back with the idea of buying Macy’s.

“I thought that sounded pretty interesting, because I saw the synergy and the idea of the Macy’s brand being spread through the Federated stores,” Lundgren says. “It took six months to convince me, and then six months after that, we bought Macy’s.”

Today, Lundgren has built Macy’s Inc. into one of the biggest and strongest department stores in the country. The retail giant accounts for a third or more of the business for the brands that Macy’s is associated with. However, if you rewind just seven years, Macy’s wasn’t even big enough to advertise during its own Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“The No. 3 most-watched television program in America is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade after the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards,” says Lundgren, Macy’s chairman, president and CEO. “Fifty-eight million people watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every year. It was a spectacular event, and I couldn’t advertise on it, because we weren’t national.”

Lundgren watched the telecast as advertisements from Target Brands Inc. and JCPenney Co. Inc. aired on the parade, but none from Macy’s.

“I said, ‘We’ve got to fix this. We’ve got to think about how we get that Macy’s brand out there,’” Lundgren says.

Through well-planned and well-timed acquisitions and a strategy that brought Macy’s closer to its customers, Lundgren began to turn Macy’s into a force to be reckoned with, and the goal of advertising on the company’s own parade was beginning to look like reality.

“We had a lot of interesting turns in our industry and our company that really represent a lot of what happened in the industry over the last several years,” he says.

In October 2012, Lundgren spoke at an ACG Cincinnati luncheon event about the journey he and Macy’s has been on and what it took to build Macy’s into the powerhouse it has become.