Listen and learn Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2007

When Jay Schottenstein was 21 years old, his father shared some words of wisdom with him: “If you work hard now, you’ll learn good habits that will last you all your life.”

As the chairman of the board of Schottenstein Stores Corp., his late father, Jerome, instinctively understood the meaning of hard work, and the Junior Achievement of Central Ohio honored him in 1991 as a Business Hall of Fame laureate.

Jay has adopted his father’s passion for business, and today, the retail magnate serves as the chairman and CEO of Columbus-based Schottenstein Stores Corp., Retail Ventures Inc. (Schottenstein’s/Value City Department Stores, DSW and Filene’s Basement), American Signature Inc./Value City Furniture and American Eagle Outfitters.

In addition to looking up to his father as a strong role model, Schottenstein has had other great mentors within his companies who have spent valuable time with him and encouraged his professional development.

The first step to becoming a successful business leader, he says, is taking the time to listen to others. He enjoys getting the input of his key managers, and he encourages them to express themselves in a direct and honest manner.

“Good business leaders gather information and then, based upon the information they’ve been given, they have the ability to make a good decision,” he says.

The next step, he says, is one he learned from his father. “My father was a believer in sharing information with your associates. If they had the same information he had, they’d be able to develop and go to the next level,” he says. “That’s been my philosophy. It cultivates an understanding of why you do certain things at certain times. If you don’t have that information, you can’t make those types of decisions.”

As business leaders develop their careers and expand upon their existing experience, they come into contact with their employees and team members in several different ways.

When Schottenstein ran his own stores, he says he had direct involvement with his associates on the sales floor and in the warehouse. Today, his companies are run by groups of key executives, and he has built a different kind of relationship with his managers. It’s a rapport that has evolved through the years.

“If someone’s doing a good job, we don’t interfere with them. We try to be helpful to the people, and we don’t try to interfere where we don’t have to interfere,” he says. “I trust our key people very much.”

Known for his keen business sense, Schottenstein says an executive has to have experience in his industry to recognize a good opportunity when it knocks. The deal also has to have a sense of urgency that requires the business leader to follow through on it immediately, rather than taking a slow approach.

“I try to work a deal as hard as I can and put my full effort into it because if I don’t get it, I want to know I tried everything I possibly could do,” he says. “If I don’t get it, I try to study what I would have done differently so if the same type of deal comes along in the future, I can react in a different way.

“You learn from the deals you get, but you also want to learn from the deals you don’t get. It’s always a learning experience.”

When a business deal lands on an executive’s desk, Schottenstein says that’s the perfect chance for the leader to take his company to the next level.

“In business, you either go forward or you go backward; there’s no staying the same,” he says. “If you think you’re staying the same, you’re going backward.”

While some executives attribute their success to their company’s revenue numbers or brand recognition, Schottenstein believes that success means having a feeling of inner peace with his professional accomplishments.

“When you do a deal, does it still get you excited?” he says. “You always want to be in a position in business that you still feel the thrill of the deal. You never want to lose that thrill.”

HOW TO REACH: Schottenstein Stores Corp., (614) 221-9200