Tricia Smith, SEP ’17: A Single Company, but Multiple Careers

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Tricia Smith, SEP ’17: A Single Company, but Multiple Careers

An executive at a major retailer dives into learning to help address the rapid changes in her industry and her own changing role.
August 3, 2017
Tricia Smith, SEP '17 | ToniBird Photography

It’s estimated that today’s young professionals will change jobs an average of four times before they turn 32. This job-hopping may be the norm for most, but it certainly isn’t the case for Tricia Smith, SEP ’17. Smith is an executive vice president of women’s clothing at Nordstrom — the same company where she started as a salesperson when she was 18 years old, more than two decades ago.

“I felt really aligned with Nordstrom,” Smith says. “And I have always had the opportunity to grow, take on different roles, and advance my career within the company.”

Following her first job as a sales associate for women’s clothing in the early 1990s, Smith was quickly promoted. “I was one of those people who from very early on knew that I loved fashion and wanted to be a buyer,” Smith says. “But as a young woman, I wouldn’t have anticipated the scale of my future leadership roles.”

I’m not a finance leader, but now I know enough about valuations or investment decisions to be able to identify what I should be looking for. Prior to the program, I didn’t have that experience or exposure.
Tricia Smith

Today, Smith oversees 250 people and 28 buying teams, which bring in over $3 billion of Nordstrom’s total revenue. But it’s not just her career that’s changed: The retail industry has experienced major disruptions from online shopping, increasing competition, and changes in customer expectations.

These market forces are a big reason that Smith, now executive vice president of women’s buying across the U.S. and Canada, decided to return to school. She wanted to learn about other aspects of business and leadership, such as finance and supply chain management, as well as strategic innovation. The six-week Stanford Executive Program opened her eyes to the many other facets and opportunities of retail work.

“I’m not a finance leader, but now I know enough about valuations and investment decisions to be able to identify what I should be looking for,” Smith says. “Prior to the program, I didn’t have that experience or exposure.”

SEP has prompted Smith to think about the questions she needs to ask, such as, how do you create a nimble environment in a 116-year-old retail company?

Tricia Smith, SEP '17 | ToniBird Photography

“I think asking your team to be innovative and collaborative is one thing, but I’ve learned more about the way others actually learn, and it’s an opportunity for me to lead differently,” she says.

The program has done more than help Smith; she’s received positive feedback from several other women within Nordstrom.

“I underestimated the impact of what my participation in this program means to other people,” Smith says. “I was doing it for myself, to be a better leader. I wasn’t thinking about what I would hear back from people, that it feels inspirational to them. Now I have the opportunity to apply what I have learned to further develop industry-leading teams.”

— Jenny Luna

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