BOSTON—Marvin S. Traub (MBA 1949), former CEO and president of Bloomingdale's and a transformational figure in the field of retailing, died of cancer yesterday at his home in New York City. He was 87 years old.
During his more than 41 years at Bloomingdale’s, more than half of them at the helm, Traub expanded the store – first nationally and then globally – while launching the careers of many of the designers whose names are recognized today as among the world’s most popular brands, including Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Donna Karan.
“Marvin Traub epitomized the mission of Harvard Business School – to educate leaders who make a difference in the world,” said Dean Nitin Nohria. “He was an innovative and visionary leader who changed the nature of retailing forever and who had a global outlook long before that became an essential part of every executive's tool kit. Marvin was also a loyal HBS alumnus who continued to share his wisdom with generations of our students and faculty. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time.”
Born in Manhattan on April 14, 1925, Traub came by his interest and expertise in retailing quite naturally. Both his parents were retailers, and throughout his childhood, dinner conversations at home often revolved around stores, brands, and fashion. His letter of recommendation to Harvard College was written by Stanley Marcus, the founder of Neiman Marcus.
After his first year at Harvard College, Traub left Cambridge to enlist in the U.S. Army during World War II. Badly wounded in France, he spent a year in hospitals, and after returning to college, went about his college life for many months in a brace and on crutches. But the determination that retail competitors would later learn to respect was already starting to show itself. Traub went through intensive physical therapy, pursued his education with energy and passion, and became business editor of the Harvard Crimson, the undergraduate newspaper. After receiving his bachelor's degree magna cum laude in government in 1947, he enrolled at Harvard Business School as a member of the MBA Class of 1949, "the class the dollars fell on," according to a Fortune magazine article.
Traub figures prominently in the 1986 book The Big Time, by Lawrence Shames, which profiles a number of the extraordinarily success members of that post-World War II class, whose members entered the soaring American economy at full speed. "There were a mere 652 men in the Class of '49," wrote Shames, "yet everywhere you looked in the upper branches of American enterprise, there they seemed to be."
MBA in hand, after a brief stop at Macy's, Traub joined Bloomingdale's in 1950. In his first seven years at Bloomingdale's, he held seven jobs. "That's good," he explained many years later, "because you're never up against your own figures." For almost three decades, he was effectively in charge of merchandising in the stores, along the way becoming president in 1969 and chairman and CEO in 1978. As far back as the 1960s, he pushed his stores into Asia. He also pioneered the concept of a national department store brand, wrote two well-regarded books, and mentored many leading lights in the next generation of retailers—some 40 of whom went on to lead companies of their own.
After “retiring” from Bloomingdale’s in 1992, Traub immediately founded and headed Marvin Traub Associates, Inc., a diversified consulting firm specializing in retailing, branding, and real estate development, where he remained active until the end of his life. His clients included organizations in twelve countries, and he was particularly proud of the fact that seventeen years after leaving Bloomingdale's, he helped the company open a 200,000–square–foot store in Dubai.
“Marvin was an outstanding leader in the fashion and retailing businesses,” said Walter J. Salmon, Stanley Roth, Sr. Professor of Retailing, Emeritus. “In addition, he was a generous and loyal friend to many individuals and institutions, including Harvard Business School. We are forever grateful to have known him and will miss him very much.”
In 2010, Harvard Business School presented Traub with its most important honor, the Alumni Achievement Award, which annually recognizes distinguished graduates who have contributed significantly to their companies and communities, while upholding the highest standards and values in everything they do. The citation he received from Dean Nohria read, in part: "Retail royalty, fabled ’49er, you inspire us with your courage, commitment, and creativity....We celebrate you as a beacon, counselor, mentor, and friend."
Years ago, Traub wrote that retailing was all about change. More recently, he concluded that all of business was about change—and that he was optimistic that today’s business leaders would do what was necessary to embrace it. That optimism captured the essence of Marvin Stuart Traub’s remarkable career and life.
He is survived by his wife, the former Lee Laufer, whom he married in 1948; three children, Andrew, Margaret, and James; and four grandchildren.
A funeral service will be held in New York City on July 15.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Marvin and Lee Traub Flexible Financial Aid Fund at Harvard University or to Pin Down Bladder Cancer.