A Legendary Business Leader

Bruce Nordstrom headed the family-run company for four decades and helped to transform it from a regional shoe seller into one of the largest US retailers. When Bruce became president in 1963, he presided over a regional chain of shoe stores. Along with two cousins, James and John Nordstrom, he helped the Seattle-based retailer become a national chain of department stores known for its extensive product selection, helpful customer service and a liberal returns policy.

Bruce strategy focused in part on fostering customer loyalty by making the stores friendly environments. Instead of generic piped-in music, pianists played on actual baby grands at many sites, dressing rooms were spacious, tired shoppers could rest in plush chairs and the sales staff was trained to be knowledgeable and polite. The department stores employed as much as 50% more salespeople than competitors, reducing customers’ wait times and increasing sales volume. By 2006, when Bruce retired as chairman, the company had $8.6 bn in revenue generated by full-line stores and Nordstrom Rack discount sites. In the company’s most recent fiscal year, it recorded sales of almost $15 bn.

The strong growth was interrupted in the mid-1990s when Bruce stepped down and, for the first time, a management team of non-family members was installed. Revenue growth was below expectations for several years as marketing efforts to attract younger shoppers backfired while costs rose and mark-downs increased. In 2000, the board convinced him to return as chairman and appointed his son, Blake, as president. Two other sons, Pete and Erik, and their cousin, Jamie Nordstrom, were named senior executives, forming a fourth generation of family management.

‘Our dad will be remembered not only for his significant contributions to Nordstrom, but also for his unwavering dedication to his family and friends,’ said Erik and Pete. ‘His passion, integrity and tireless work ethic served as an inspiration to everyone around him. But perhaps his greatest achievement was being an amazing father, husband and grandfather. Our dad leaves a powerful legacy as a legendary business leader, a generous community citizen and a loyal friend.’ Aside from his retail leadership, Bruce was a billonaire philanthropist, and served as president of the Children’s Hospital Foundation and Seattle Goodwill. He also once served as chairman of the United Way of King County Campaign and president of the Downtown Seattle Association. 

‘His passion, integrity and tireless work ethic served as an inspiration to everyone around him’.

Pete and Erik Nordstrom