Miller Zell EVP & Chief Retail Officer Ron Lutz announced his retirement from Miller Zell this month. We asked him to write a few words in advance of his departure.
As I contemplate my retirement from Miller Zell, I can’t help but think of the dramatic changes in retail over the last 35+ years, and the intentional transformation it made as an industry. Or what we as an organization did to meet those changes.
It wasn’t that long ago, when I was an executive at Lowe’s, I watched retail in general make its expansion into big box stores across multiple business verticals, starting a footrace for real estate, chasing the population shifts from metropolitan areas into suburban communities. Market saturation followed, and the EDLP pricing strategy depressed margins which led to a phase of closures and acquisitions for many retail shopping categories.
Differentiation, understood or not, became the mantra of the day, and at this inflection point Customer Experience (CX) was borne to begin driving decision-making, as shoppers wanted seamless, omnichannel engagement. Consumers expected to have the ability to shop however, wherever and whenever they wanted. For the retailers who could fulfill this expectation, brand loyalty strengthened.
Then the pandemic arrived in the first quarter of 2020, accelerating many innovations— BOPIS, touchless payment, delivery, app development, VR/AR, robotics, brick and mortar expansion to curbside pickup, etc. — that challenged retailers to reassure and meet their customers where they were during an anxious time.
Yet, despite unprecedented upheaval, the ultimate lesson in retail remains the same: change is constant. Always has been and always will be.
That leads into what I am most proud of during my tenure at Miller Zell. As an organization, we made the decision to transform from an operationally driven company to a client-centric organization.
That initiative required trust, courage and executive leadership alignment to pivot a successful 54+ year-old company toward changes that were both large and subtle. We crafted a five-year strategic roadmap in 2018. As part of that plan, in March of 2020, we executed a critical milestone of structural and organizational change that created internal teams focused expressly on exceeding our clients’ expectations by being empowered to make decisions with two criteria: 1) Is this the best decision for the client, and; 2) is it in keeping with our values while being a good decision for the organization. The client came first in all we did.
While it’s perhaps strange to note this, the timing was advantageous, as we were poised and ready to help our clients when COVID-19 upended norms for public spaces. These clients, many deemed essential businesses, gave us high marks in how we provided solutions that were thoughtful, timely, and overcame logistical challenges.
For this and many other reasons, I am confident in the leadership team that remains in place, leadership that includes the empowerment of associates across the organization.
Miller Zell nurtures a culture that prioritizes exceeding client expectations as the best way to serve our company.
I am proud to have been a part of the Miller Zell family. I look forward to spending more time with my family, leveraging experiences to establish a company that offers Executive/Leadership Coaching, dedicating more time to several non-profit boards on which I serve and consulting in the retail space. But I also will continue to be a vocal advocate of Miller Zell, a company that inspires its associates to deliver innovation and outstanding service to its client partners, as well as being led by servant leaders. As you see, it’s not about them but about the customers and associates they serve.