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Front Row Partners CEO Glen Senk spoke at the inaugural Kellogg Retail + Luxury Goods Conference on April 16.

Glen Senk

Five ways to serve shoppers

Front Row Partners CEO Glen Senk’s top tips from Bloomingdale’s, Urban Outfitters and 33 years of retail

By Paul Dailing

4/17/2014 - When Glen Senk started at Bloomingdale’s in 1981, their Manhattan store was so busy, the carpet had to be replaced every six weeks.

Over the years, he’s taken his retail experience to outlets including Habitat, Williams-Sonoma and Anthropologie. He has served as CEO of Urban Outfitters, fine jeweler David Yurman and, currently, Front Row Partners, an investment platform Senk formed this month focusing on the retail and consumer industries.

In that time, he’s seen an industry once tailored to posh urbanites at Bloomingdale’s on a Saturday shift its focus to shoppers in pajamas trawling websites at 2 a.m. on a Monday.

And on Wednesday, as keynote speaker at the inaugural Retail + Luxury Goods Conference hosted by the Retail + Luxury Goods Club, he brought that experience to Kellogg.

In a talk with Professor Carter Cast, Senk shared his thoughts on everything from young executives who search for the perfect mentor ("I don't think there is a Holy Grail. I think mentors are all around us.") to businesses that try to jump on trends rather than create their own identity (“Every business I’ve seen that hit a chord with customers was authentic.”)

Here are the highlights:

1. On big data and the “Emotional Quotient”

“In this day and age, you have to be able to mine data and have what I call EQ. You have to have a high level of empathy and you have to be able to infer from the data what people want to buy.”

2. On liking people

"If you don't love people, don't go into retail. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with not liking people. There are a lot of highly successful people who don’t like being around other people. Part of your lot in life, part of your success is finding what makes you happy.”

3. On creativity vs. process

“When an organization is overweighted with creativity, they can lack focus. An organization with too much process and strategy can lack a soul. The magic, the explosion is when there’s a balance between them.”

4. On mistakes

“When you’re in the mistake, you think it’s the end of your life, but the older you get you realize mistakes aren’t life-ending. They’ll pass. You learn from them and never make the same mistake again, but you’ll make another one.”

5. On forging your own path

“When you start looking at your competition you end up looking like your competition.”

Read more insights from recent conference speakers: