He Made Bloomingdale’s; Now He Wants to Buy It


To fashion designers and retailing kingpins, Marvin S. Traub is another Cecil B. DeMille.

As chairman and chief executive of Bloomingdale’s since 1978, the hard-charging Traub is credited with making the 117-year-old department store chain the envy of American retailers.

“He’s like the old merchant prince--someone who has a vision of what the style and merchandising of a store should be,” said Robert Schinberg, a retailing consultant and formerly a 25-year Bloomingdale’s executive. “The growth and energy of the stores are a reflection of his drive.”

And at age 64, the energetic Traub is showing no signs of slowing down. Department store watchers say Traub still possesses the strong ego, sharp mind and boundless energy that have made his name synonymous with the famous stores he oversees.

Wants to Lead Buyout

A recent profile in Women’s Wear Daily, a trade publication, noted that Traub gets to his office each morning at 7 after a vigorous workout.


And Traub, who maintains residences on the Upper East Side and in Greenwich, Conn., is renowned for making mental notes on every overseas trip--business or pleasure--and bringing back ideas he later develops into special merchandising themes.

Now, however, Traub may face his most vigorous test. He wants to lead a management buyout of the $1.2-billion chain that cash-strapped owner Campeau Corp. put up for sale Friday as part of a major restructuring.

Traub probably won’t be the only one bidding for Bloomingdale’s. Crown American Corp., the nation’s fifth-largest shopping mall developer, said it is considering a bid of more than $1 billion for the chain. Frank J. Pasquerilla, Crown American’s chairman and chief executive, said the company would make the bid “if the operating numbers we are asking for hold up,” the New York Times reported in its editions today.

Those familiar with Traub say his interest in wanting to cut a deal isn’t hard to understand. At this stage in his life, some observers think that it is less likely he could secure a similar position elsewhere, particularly after the massive consolidation among retailers in the past couple of years.

“I’m not sure that, at 64, there are other, attractive retail possibilities,” Schinberg said. “He still has the driving energy to not want to retire. He’s a workaholic and I don’t believe he’s slowed down. I think he views Bloomingdale’s as his life.”

Equally important, Traub was known to have chafed at the drastic cost cutting he was forced to implement at the 17 Bloomingdale’s stores after they were acquired as part of Campeau’s purchase last year of Federated Department Stores.

Transformed the Store

For that reason, the intervening months were reportedly difficult for Traub, who knows what it is like to start at the bottom.

A 1947 graduate of Harvard University, Traub had summer jobs at Macy’s and Abraham & Straus. After graduating with a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard in 1949, Traub worked for Alexander’s for a year and then joined Bloomingdale’s as a basement buyer.

He worked his way up over the years and, in an interview last year with Crain’s Chicago Business, Traub noted that he was part of the management team that transformed Bloomingdale’s from a moderate- to low-priced store with a basement into a world-class fashion institution.

Traub’s rise can be traced to his unflagging interest in details.

“There’s no intellectual concept he can’t manage,” Schinberg said. “When you imagine a picture of a trendy, handsomely designed Bloomingdale’s, Traub is in the middle of it.”