Hometown Girl Has Best Job in Dallas

New Neiman Marcus CEO talks fashion, her career climb

In the fashion world, the name Karen Katz is as well-known as Michael Jordan is in the sports world.

Katz is on a first-name basis with the world's most famous designers. She's been in retail for almost 25 years, has climbed her way to the top and happens to be from Dallas.

When I met up with her on the couture floor of downtown Dallas' Neiman Marcus store, she smiled and insisted we had met before.

Dressed in a sleek, black pantsuit, she sat down for our interview as if she has all of the time in the world.

She doesn't.

Katz has just been named president and chief executive officer of The Neiman Marcus Group, a title she insisted she wasn't after when she started with the luxury retailer in 1985.

"No, this isn't something that I really thought about so much," she said.

Katz was eager to walk us around and talk about fashion and quality.

"This is our favorite spot in an Neiman Marcus store," she said as we walked into the Chanel boutique.

"Chanel is a very important vendor for Neiman Marcus," Katz said, touching one of the label's jackets. "My favorite thing is the way they finish off the hems on dresses and jackets."

But when pressed to talk about her new title, Katz conceded. I asked if her new role feels natural.

"I guess so," she said. "I've never looked at my career as something that I was striving to get to one position or another. For me, it was one step at a time. Maybe others are more ambitious than I am. I think that I took it a day at a time and tried to do the very best that I could in everything that I was doing, and I have a lot of energy, and I work hard, and I think those kinds of things pay off."

Katz, a graduate of the University of Texas, started with Neiman Marcus in 1985 as a merchandise manager. Over the years, she has overseen nearly every sector of the company, including Neiman Marcus Direct, Neiman Marcus Stores and, before this, worked as executive vice president of the Neiman Marcus Group.

She said loyalty, a passion for luxury retail and hard work paid off. She also credited management's willingness to let her travel less when her son was young.

"There were accommodations along the way when I felt like I needed to do different things to accommodate my son's different needs at different ages," Katz said.

Katz is taking the helm at a time when luxury goods seem to be making a comeback. At Neiman Marcus, sales of women's and men's clothing, jewelry and handbags were all up 10.9 percent in April compared to last year.

"The recession was a very difficult period for all retailers and, very specifically, luxury retailing," she said. "It's nice to see that the customer is starting to come back into the stores."

Difficult may be an understatement. At its lowest point, Neiman Marcus saw declines of 27.3 percent.

Katz isn't declaring a comeback yet, but she said Neiman Marcus' core customer is returning.

"She came in looking for whatever the hottest fashion trend was, so that gave us courage to move forward," she said. "She's being selective in terms of what she is buying, but one thing about Neiman Marcus customers that we can always count on is she wants quality in her life, she absolutely wants luxury in her life."

Since the recession, Neiman Marcus has cut hundreds of positions across all divisions and levels.

Does Katz anticipate adding back to the workforce?

"I think that as business continues to, hopefully, ramp up, we probably will have to at some point have to hire more people," she said.

Katz officially takes over in the fall.

Katz says she sleeps seven hours a night, despite the stress that her job brings.

And her favorite brand, she admits, is Target.

Her greatest indulgence? Trips with her family.

Katz said she hangs her success on her husband and her son.

"My husband, he's very supportive," she said. "I couldn't be here without his support along the way. And I think my son is excited. It's always hard to tell with a 20-year-old boy."

When she retires from Neiman Marcus, she wants to be a barista at the Starbucks in Highland Park Village.

"If they'll have me," Katz said with a smile.

For now, she will run Neiman Marcus from her hometown, in the very office that Stanley Marcus one sat.

"I'm proud of the fact that I was born and raised here, I grew up shopping here, my wedding dress came from Neiman Marcus and that, 25 years after joining the company, I'm the CEO," she said.

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