David Witman
by Karen Alberg Grossman
David Witman
David Witman

After 27 years at Nordstrom, David Witman, EVP/GMM of the Seattle-based retailer, is moving on. His leadership skills, candor and ability to inspire have touched so many in our industry, as has his unique sense of humor.

Says Arnold Silverstone, creative director of Hickey Freeman and Samuelsohn, “Having worked with David both on the supplier side and during my time at Nordstrom, I would use these words to describe him: gentleman, honest, wise, mentor, strong leader, driven and fair. I have learned so much from David over the years and respect him tremendously as both a businessman and family man. I am proud to call him my friend.”

Giorgio Canali agrees. “David’s strength as a merchant involves his ability to keep an eye on daily operations while focusing on the future. His keen understanding of industry trends and detailed knowledge of operational aspects enabled him to be successful at Nordstrom for so long. He’s been a strong embracer of Nordstrom’s customer-centric vision and always a great coach to his team. What’s more, David is a true gentleman, an honest and humble person, a strong but fair negotiator, and always an interesting conversationalist with a wonderful sense of humor. I truly enjoyed and appreciated the many years of successful business together and I’m thankful for our friendship.”

Here, MR catches up with Witman to ascertain his feelings and future plans.

Q: So how are you feeling?

A: I’m feeling great!

Q: It must mean a lot to you that so many colleagues are singing your praises, and talking about the many ways you’ve inspired them.

A: Actually, they’ve got it backwards. It’s amazing how many people in this industry have inspired and positively impacted me.

Q: So what’s next for David Witman? Are you planning to retire and enjoy your life?

A: Everyone’s congratulating me, saying I’ll finally get to do what I love. The truth is: I’ve been doing what I love for 27 years! I’m 58 years young which I think is a wonderful time for the next chapter. I’m still a product person so I can see myself joining the board of a company that makes great product. I’m not likely to work for another major retailer: after working for the best, anything else would be a letdown.

Q: What will you do on Thursday, your first day not going to work?

A: I hope to wake up at 8:00 a.m. instead of 6:00 a.m. That would make me very happy.

Q: Is your wife Jayme looking forward to having you around?

A: Absolutely not. She’s terrified!

Q: What are you most proud of?

A: The people I’ve worked with, the relationships I’ve cultivated, the friends I’ve made. To borrow a line from Mario Bisio: the competition is not the product you’re up against but the people.

nordstromQ: Nordstrom has always been known for its exceptional sales associates. Can you share the secret of how to recruit and train great sellers?

A: We didn’t train them; their parents did. The goal is to hire people with the right character, values and intention.

Q: Other than the people, what do you see as Nordstrom’s competitive advantage?

A: Our willingness to be wrong and to test new things.

Q: Do you think the growth of Nordstrom Rack stores has hurt or helped the legacy business?

A: It’s definitely helped; it introduces new customers to the Nordstrom eco-system. After all, most young people start off with a used car before they can afford a new one. We’ve done many studies and have empirical proof that our outlets help our regular Nordstrom business.

Q: What about vendors selling direct to consumers: how disturbing has this been to your business?

A: Not at all. I always say that when a vendor opens a store next to ours, it’s the best thing that can happen since it helps promote the brand.

Q: So if neither outlets nor vendors selling direct are problematic, why do you think business has been so tough?

A: It always boils down to great product. During the 2008 recession when business came to a standstill, there were long lines at the Apple stores. I truly believe that the death of brick & mortar has been greatly exaggerated. We’re in a transitional period and there’s a change in how business is done but physical stores are not going away. The problem is not that stores are no longer relevant, but rather that we have to get better at what we do and offer more exceptional product. Great product does not necessarily ensure success but poor product ensures failure.

 Q: What have you learned from working with Pete Nordstrom?

A: That’s an easy one: from Pete I’ve learned integrity, to always do the right thing. And what I’ve always felt from him is trust.

Q: Do you have any regrets from the past 27 years?

A: Absolutely none: I’ve had a great ride.


  1. David was a comsumate menswear retailer. I did not have allot of direct contact but whenever it was, it was always positive. Many of the people who worked for and with me had nothing but great remarks about his professionalism ! Good luck David with the next chapter in your life and career! I can tell you, life is great not getting up at the crack of dawn or getting in a plane to countries afar, unless you are a tourist!
    Stan Tucker

  2. So many of us on the vendor side “grew up” as Nordstrom grew up.As they grew they maintained the utmost integrity and they always treated us as a valued part of their growth.David is the living embodiment of that growth and the poster boy of that integrity..Nordstrom will miss this great merchant.

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