The Emperor’s Wearing the Wrong Clothes

The jacket lining of a grey-pinstripe suit I purchased 16 months ago at Bloomingdale’s had worn very badly.  Having used the suit less than two dozen times, I was surprised at its poor quality.   I took the jacket and my receipt to Bloomingdale’s Men’s Department in Wayne, NJ, expecting a simple, quick process to have the lining replaced.    A Bloomingdale’s employee examined the suit, glanced at my receipt, and agreed the suit was wearing poorly.  She asked where I had purchased the suit; when I responded “the Short Hills Bloomingdale’s,” she somewhat disdainfully offered that the Wayne store did not carry the particular suit brand.  Even if unintended, her remark also reflected her disdain for me, the customer wearing that brand.

She took the jacket to the Alterations Department, explaining that I would not have to listen to the Alterations person “bitch and moan.”   Cooling my heels, increasingly annoyed, she returned to say there would be a charge but that the Men’s Department would absorb it provided I had a Bloomingdale’s account (which, fortunately, I did).  Although I didn’t much care to get involved in the store’s inter-departmental machinations, I started to cool off.  Not for long, though.  When she informed me the  repair would require almost a month while the lining was ordered, I explained that I needed the suit sooner for upcoming holidays.  Her response?  “That isn’t going to happen.  Why don’t you take the suit to the Short Hills store?  They can either refund you the purchase price or perhaps exchange it for a suit of equivalent value. ” I did indeed exit the Wayne store with my suit.

You might think this is a case in point of poor execution with respect to Bloomingdale’s brand strategy and image (compare the foregoing episode with a stunning example of brand-consistent customer service with Lexus experienced by a colleague last year in “You say your business is customer-centric, but is it?”).  Instead, the point of this story is the importance of checking your facts, both in your tailoring and in the C-suite and boardroom.

Before I went to the Short Hills store, I discovered that the suit was not from Bloomingdale’s.  It was a similar-looking pinstripe more than 10 years old.   Had I checked my facts, I would never have gone to Bloomingdale’s nor had the unsatisfactory and off-putting interaction with the Wayne store’s employee.  Had the Bloomingdale’s manager bothered to examine the receipt carefully, she would have seen that it did not match the suit label.  Instead, we both assumed the wrong facts and made decisions to act on our incorrect beliefs.  At best, she knew my mistake but was reticent to correct the customer (me again).

How often are the outcome of discussions between a CEO and a management team, or a Board, preordained based on incorrect facts, assumptions and perceptions that each executive or Director brings into the meeting?  When the correct underlying facts are not shared and known openly, bad decisions get made and implemented.  The future success of a company can be jeopardized by decisions built on either inhibited communication (the
intimidation factor) or inaccurate information.  If the full facts are known to all, correct decision-making is much more likely.  Be sure to check your facts (and your biases at the door), or an organization might soon find itself not “wearing the wrong clothes” but wearing no clothes at all.

About Ken Drossman

Ken Drossman is a Managing Director at Oak & Apple Partners, LLC. Ken has spent more than 35 years demonstrating practical financial acumen by leading, advising and guiding privately-owned, small and middle-market companies through financial and operating challenges. He has in-depth experience in all phases of financial, strategic and operating management from hands on cash flow budgeting through acquisition financing, from divestiture of business units to reorganizing and leading newly formed companies. Prior to co-founding Oak & Apple Partners, Ken has been the principal at Lakeview Business Consulting, LLC, which assists entrepreneurial business owners and their companies in achieving their business vision. Ken earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Before founding Lakeview Business Consulting in 2006, he served for 18 years as CEO, COO and/or CFO at several privately-owned companies, in industries including financial services for hospitals; digital document storage and outsourced back-office services for professional service firms; design and distribution of personal business accessories through big-box retailers; capital goods manufacturing for national and regional retail chains; and information services for beverage alcohol manufacturing and marketing companies. Previously, Ken was a Partner at Grant Thornton, LLP, where he provided management consulting services to such companies as AT&T, Baxter Laboratories and GTE-Sylvania, as well as many middle-market companies.
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