Obituary: Retail Veteran Mark Shulman, 74

A graveside service for Mark Shulman, who for decades held top jobs at a variety of major specialty and department stores across the country, will be held Tuesday at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y., at 11 a.m.

A shiva service will follow at the Fenway Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y., where Shulman was a member. Shulman passed away on Sept. 5 after suffering a heart attack while vacationing in Greece. He was 74.

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“We were best friends,” said Jeff Citron. “Mark and I met while we were both on golfing vacations in Miami as teenagers. Mark was the most affable, warm person you would ever find, and a great family man. We were phenomenal friends, but he had a lot of friends.”

“With Mark, the word that comes to mind is ‘mensch,'” said Kirk Palmer, founder and chief executive of Kirk Palmer Associates executive search. “He radiated positive energy. He was outgoing, and hugely likable with a gregarious personality. Just a sweet guy.”

Shulman’s manner, management style and ability to establish friendships in and outside of the retail and fashion industries enabled him to attain several high-profile positions.

He cut his teeth in the department store industry, spending the early part of his career at Bloomingdale’s, which he joined in 1970 at the age of 21. He rose to divisional vice president, helping to launch the store’s bridge business. That set a foundation for what would evolve into an industry-leading contemporary fashion business.

In 1975, he joined the former Rikes department store in Ohio where he worked until 1977 when he returned to Bloomingdale’s as a group vice president. In 1983, he became senior vice president and general merchandise manager of the former I. Magnin luxury department store, which was based in San Francisco.

About three years later, he joined the Ann Taylor women’s specialty chain as president and chief executive officer, until late 1986 when Leslie H. Wexner, former chairman and chief executive officer of L Brands, then called Limited Inc., tapped Shulman to run Henri Bendel in New York as president and CEO. The idea was to transform the once trend-setting, innovative Bendel’s into a national chain. While several Bendel’s stores were launched by The Limited — including a Fifth Avenue flagship replacing the original 57th Street location — the brand, as it evolved under a succession of leaders after Shulman left the business, never achieved the status it held in its earlier, pre-Limited days and was not successful in its rollout.

Shulman had a brief stint at Aca Joe before moving onto the Bonjour Group as president of licensing from 1991 to 1992. Next, he joined Leslie Fay as president of the dress division, and in 1994 returned to retailing as president of Stage Stores. He moved on to Talbots as executive vice president and chief merchant. His impact at Talbots was felt when the business returned to its roots in classic styling, enhanced its marketing to project a fresher image and started to reverse a long downward sales slide. However, Shulman had differences with management over the future direction of the company, which triggered his departure.

His retail journey continued when he became chief operating officer of the now-defunct Retail Brand Alliance, with responsibility for Brooks Brothers, as well as Casual Corner, which was liquidated.

In 2004, Shulman became president of the former Filene’s Basement off-price chain until it was purchased by Syms Corp. in 2010. At the time, Shulman said the last several years had been particularly tough for him, given the business climate, the Filene’s Basement bankruptcy and its ownership change. In 2012, he joined Mandee, another off-pricer. Most recently, Shulman was consulting.

“Golf was his passion,” said Citron. “We played every Saturday and Sunday, and if we could sneak away during the week. Mark was about a 10 handicap at his best.”

Shulman is survived by his three children; William, Adam and Amanda; five grandchildren; and his sister Diane. Shulman was predeceased by his wife of 47 years, Jacqueline Banks Shulman.

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