Monday, June 2, 2014

Retail Giant Ed Finkelstein Almost Had Me Arrested

Ed Finkelstein, the former chairman and chief executive officer of R.H. Macy & Co., died over the weekend. He was 89.

Ed Finkelstein, the former chairman and chief executive officer of R.H. Macy & Co., almost had me arrested.

It was during a contentious annual shareholders’ meeting, back in 1986. Finkelstein wanted to take the company private, partially as a means of retaining senior executives with the promise of a big payoff when the company would go public again. 

I was not a shareholder. Nor did I have an opinion on the move, though many shareholders took the opportunity to vent their frustrations with the idea and with management in general. 

What I did have was a camera and I was using it to snap shots of Finkelstein, who usually avoided any contact with the press, or at least with my magazine. So there I was shooting away from the front of the ballroom of the Hotel Pennsylvania, I believe, a block from Macy’s Herald Square flagship store, when Finkelstein’s minions more than casually informed me that if I didn't put the camera away I would be forcibly removed from the private meeting and arrested. 

That's when I learned that shareholders’ meetings are not public gatherings. Picture taking is permissible at the whim of the CEO and Big Ed was in no mood that day to be photographed.

That incident notwithstanding, I admired Finkelstein. He transformed a tired department store company into an energized retail mecca. For him, it was not enough to run the self-proclaimed “world’s largest department store.” By introducing The Cellar to sell trendy housewares and food, by promoting private label apparel and by making the 34th Street store a scene of retail theater, Finkelstein made it a must-visit emporium. Tourists and retail observers had two destinations when they came to Manhattan—Bloomingdale’s on the East Side and Macy’s in Midtown.