1-to-1: YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund & Macy’s
A conversation with FSF’s Executive Director, Peter Arnold, & Marc Mastronardi, Macy’s Senior VP of Store Operations & Customer Experience
BY: The Lead Editorial Team
- “As consumer behavior continues to change and technology continues to enable different ways to shop, it means that the labor force that is in our store has to continue to support that consumer behavior, which means we need folks who are able to do many different things.”
- “On every front, diversity has been such a critical part of our consumer base. If you want to be able to support that consumer base, then you need to make sure that diversity is a priority of your entire organization.” – Marc Mastronardi
The national unemployment rate is 3.8% – identifying and attracting the next generation of talent has its challenges by that figure alone. The challenge is only enhanced for fashion and retail by the fact that the whole industry is in transition. The allure and sexiness of certain brands just do not resonate with the Millennial and Gen Z demographics. Meanwhile, the consumer technology industry continues to draw the creative and business talent away from mainstays.
As an industry, it is our responsibility to make sure that the best and the brightest have access to and awareness of the opportunities that lay across the fashion and retail industry — from marketing to supply chain, design to e-commerce. For this reason and many more, we are honored to partner with The YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund (FSF) — the foremost fashion-oriented education and workforce development non-profit in the U.S.
YMA-FSF leads the industry in its support of emerging talent. Every year, the FSF awards over $1.2 million in scholarship funding to college students from diverse backgrounds, providing recipients with intensive mentorship, internship and career opportunities, professional development, and direct access to the world’s top companies and most influential leaders in fashion, retail and related sectors.
We invited YMA-FSF’s President of the Board, Marc Mastronardi (Macy’s SVP of Store Operations and Customer Experience) and Peter Arnold, FSF’s Executive Director, to unpack YMA-FSF’s mission, how they are working with emerging talent and what this means for you.
Mastronardi and Arnold work together to advance FSF’s mission — identifying, supporting, and nurturing promising young fashion talent that will transition seamlessly into these evolving ‘cultural masterplans’. In the following Q&A, Mastronardi and Arnold talk about the future of the fashion industry, the challenges the fashion/retail sectors are currently facing, hiring creative talent, and remaining innovative in today’s rapidly changing environment.
PA: You and I are working together to advance the Fashion Scholarship Fund’s mission. Let’s talk about why the future of the fashion industry depends on the college talent FSF supports?
MM: I think that when we get through the entire review of where our businesses are going, the challenges that we all face, and the solutions that we’re going to come up with, they all are tied to our talent, entirely. Our industry is competing with so many others to be able to bring the best and the brightest. The partnership of our two organizations and the recognition that the Fashion Scholarship Fund is deeply connected with the college population, and able to identify the youngest talent that is coming into our industry at their most important inflection point, is why we’re both so focused on college talent.
PA: We lead the industry in our support of education and career placement and you, Macy’s, have hired many of our students and alumni. What qualities do our scholars have that may set them apart from other graduates?
MM: Well, I think that the recognition of having over 60 partner schools all over the country, with the different functional discipline backgrounds of those schools, gives us access to a really diverse set of students as to who they are, where they’re from, and what they’re interested in. That has been a really critical part of how we do our hiring.
I think the other part of what sets the group of FSF scholars apart from others that I’ve seen is that this group is just incredibly smart. They’re extremely creative. There’s an entrepreneurial spirit, and the case study work that we do with them requires them to put forth an entrepreneurial creative footprint, which helps us find the folks that I think, ultimately, are some of the most curious people coming into the industry. That sets them apart from their peers.
PA: As the SVP, Store Operations and Customer Experience for Macy’s, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing the fashion/ retail industries?
MM: That’s a giant question. There are just so many! I think I’d start with the fact that consumer behavior and consumer expectation is shifting at such a rapid pace, which really means that we’ve got to figure out how to have a very healthy brick and mortar business for when that is what the consumer is looking for, and we’ve got to have a very healthy e-commerce business for the moments when that is the choice and the option. All of it rooted in a mobile-driven initiative. I think that the social side of the world that mobile is connected to is becoming such an important part of influence behavior. Those are the things that I’m looking at as a store operations and consumer experience leader, recognizing that those are the places that we have to move to.
PA: As the fashion retail landscape continues to evolve rapidly, how do you/ Macy’s remain innovative?
MM: I think one of the exciting parts of being part of the Macy’s organization is that we’ve been innovating for 160 years. To a large extent, it’s in the DNA of our people to recognize that nothing is staying the way that it was, on any front, in every discipline, in every part of our organization that we operate. We’re really focused on challenging that thinking. It’s a more practical experience – that is what we hire and we train into it. We look for people who are entrepreneurial and curious about pushing the envelope and thinking differently. We give them tools once they’re inside of our company as to how to develop that skill. It’s not just a behavior that our leaders encourage, to a very large extent it is a behavior that our leaders require. That is what has helped us build a very robust test and learn environment. We put a lot of discipline and rigor around that so that we do it with a structure that is really helping to keep us innovative.
PA: There are obviously brick and mortar challenges these days. How are you keeping Macy’s relevant in the increasingly competitive retail environment?
MM: I have had the pleasure of leading a business development in innovation function over the last few years that we put resources behind and invested in and tasked it to create some of the ways to make our store experience environment even more engaging. That is where virtual reality for furniture in The Market at Macy’s and Macy’s Style Crew was born from. Last year, Macy’s acquired “STORY” and Rachel Shechtman and her team launched STORY at Macy’s in more than 30 locations across the US. We’ve also been very public about making investments in our stores. We put significant capital into our stores last year as part of our task to yield the results that we were very happy with. This year we’ve put a significant investment in the look and feel and talent and experiences of more than 100 of our stores. That is environmental investment, that is product investment, that is new content, and new categories, all the way to food and beverage, which is another place into which we’ve made really big investments to ensure that the brick and mortar side of our business is competitive.
PA: How would you describe the future retail workforce? What does it look like to you?
MM: I think broadly speaking, it’s very flexible. As consumer behavior continues to change and technology continues to enable different ways to shop, it means that the labor force that is in our store has to continue to support that consumer behavior, which means we need folks who are able to do many different things. That is where we’re evolving in many different fronts as a labor force today. They have to behave like our customers. They have to act and interact with our customers the same way that our customers are interacting with our brand. I think that’s where we’ll continue to see the workforce evolve.
PA: Let’s talk about the importance of diversity in the retail fashion business, and how you’re working to attract and nurture talent from diverse backgrounds.
MM: It really all starts with, “That’s our customer.” Our customer, across the entire country, and in nearly every state and nearly every market, is a very diverse consumer in every aspect. Whether that is their background, whether that is their role in the jobs that they have and what they hold. On every front, diversity has been such a critical part of our consumer base. If you want to be able to support that consumer base, then you need to make sure that diversity is a priority of your entire organization.
Last year, we created a Chief Diversity Officer position, which Shawn Outler leads for our company. Our CEO has been very public about making diversity and inclusion a pillar of the Macy’s brand that all of our leadership is focused on supporting. That focus has precipitated our ability to create programs internally that are really nurturing and helping develop a diverse leadership workforce. We have that both in stores and centrally.
That focus becomes a critical priority in our hiring process. It comes back to recruiting, and it comes back to our partnerships with the FSF which has a reach into a really big population of students. That allows us to get folks from very unique and diverse backgrounds.
PA: Hiring talent is an art. How does Macy’s do that? What tips do you have for identifying the best talent?
MM: I hire, overwhelmingly, for a behavior over discipline competence. I get people that think and act and behave with a lot of the attributes that I think are valuable – curiosity, innovative thinking, entrepreneurial spirit. Macy’s only hires that way. We have the ability to teach our business to talent that way, versus trying to find just those folks that are interested in a very specific discipline background.
I’d go back and say that to hire that way takes a lot of work. It is not just part of the normal hiring process and so I think our recruiting teams, our HR teams that work with all of our business leaders, are really well aligned to that same focus, that same drive for finding the best talent.
As a tip, I’d say when I’m inside the interview process I really am probing deeply to understand the candidate. Not just what they know but how they think. What do they look for in people that they’re evaluating, whether that is jobs of other employers they’re considering or teachers or students or friends. When you can get into understanding how others evaluate the options in their world, you can start to get some really unique insight as to what kind of fit a person will be in our organization. As an interviewer, you’ve got to find the questions that allow you to get at that insight the best.
PA: Once that talent is on board at Macy’s, what does Macy’s do to foster or nurture that talent?
MM: We have a really robust training and development program. I think we have had an industry-leading program for a very, very long time. It is personally how I joined the industry, through a training program many years ago at Filene’s, which had that same level of rigor and development and onboarding and then ongoing training and mentorship. We have made significant investments in the upfront part of hiring but also during an executive’s entire journey with us. Through to the most senior leadership ranks, we continue to have big investments in classroom-like teaching, computer based training and really defined programs that exist throughout the organization that are focused on the development of our leadership. It is not just an exercise at the beginning of joining a company, it is ongoing cultural, everyday work. I think that has helped us be very successful as an organization.
PA: What makes your career path unique?
MM: Over 21 years, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to take dramatic shifts in the roles I have played within the company. From buying into planning, from brick and mortar, into digital, into omni roles. I have had the opportunity to create and lead a business development and innovation function, which took me into the start-up and venture space and eventually into the restaurant business. And most recently, I have the opportunity to learn and lead the store operations, selling, and customer service teams across the enterprise.
PA: How does your career trajectory parallel with business/technology changes and how have you integrated those evolutions into business?
MM: My career has often aligned to the changes in technology that have driven the change in retail consumer behavior. Whether the growth of online shopping which helped move me into the macys.com organization or the latest innovations of in-store technologies, like mobile checkout and RFID, which have brought me into the store operations world, my career has often been driven by the changing landscape of retail technology.
PA: What attracted you to focus on innovation versus operation?
MM: My interest has always been on the total customer experience. The work over the last few years on the innovation team was a great way for me to imagine where consumer behavior was heading and work with a talented team of people who helped create business models for Macy’s which met the customer at that new place. The intersection between the world of broad possibility in consumer behavior and the ability to harness Macy’s power to create businesses was a tremendous attraction. It is with that same excitement for possibility and innovation that I now lead the store operation organization.
PA: Last question: Marc, you’ve been with Macy’s for over 20 years. What are the secrets to your success? Any words of wisdom you can share from your years of experience?
MM: I’ve been very fortunate as to having spent a bunch of years in Filene’s organization before having the opportunity to come and join the Macy’s organization. What has been most helpful in my success is that I’ve had a chance to do a lot of very different things. In a big organization like Macy’s, that is involved in so many different parts of the entire fashion cycle, it’s got nothing but opportunity. It’s one of the things that I love about our company, there are so many different things that you can explore in your career.
For me, every couple of years, the organization has identified new things that they think would be valuable for me to learn. Because of the way we operate, and the size of the company that we are, we have those real opportunities. I’ve been very fortunate to have been in buying and planning, in stores and in .com, and in all different categories of business, including the business development world, the food and beverage world, and the licensed business world.
Now, I am taking on a new role and have the opportunity to learn about our store operations and our customer experience. I think my secret to success is that every time the organization has asked me to think about doing something very different, I’ve gone along and it has been really rewarding.
Peter Arnold is the Executive Director of FSF, a position he began in November 2018. Arnold is a visionary and decisive business leader, strategist, and trusted advisor to investors and Boards with extensive fashion industry and corporate law experience. He has demonstrated success in launching, building and revitalizing brands to drive revenue, generate value for constituents, and prepare businesses for sale to private equity stakeholders. He was formerly CEO of Cushnie et Ochs, CEO of Cynthia Rowley, President of John Varvatos, and Executive Director of the CFDA. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University School of Law since Jan 2017.
Marc Mastronardi is currently Macy’s Senior Vice President of Store Operations and Customer Experience. In this role since March 2019, Marc leads enterprise-wide store operations, selling, and customer service teams. Prior to this appointment, Marc was Executive Vice President of Business Development, leading multiple functions in the creation and expansion of new business concepts, leased partnerships, diverse owner lead businesses and the restaurant organization within Macy’s across the nation.