What I learned from Ira Neimark — the great pioneer of luxury retail …

Last summer I was at Ira Neimark’s house interviewing him, as I had a dozen times before. Little did I know this would be my last with this great pioneer who passed away on April 18. At age 96 Ira was completely energetic, quick-witted and still visionary … he even hit some golf balls from his back yard that day. He spoke about how retail has changed and exactly why the Apple store was busy, while the retailer across the street wasn’t.

As background, Ira started working in retail at Bonwit Teller as a page boy in 1938 and moved his way up to be Chairman and CEO of Bergdorf Goodman from 1975 – 1992. In addition to leading incredible revenue growth, Ira completely transformed luxury retail by putting designers in the forefront and converting them into brands. Ira found Giorgio Armani in a small room in Italy without a light fixture, and he had the vision to create incredible parties and events for everyone from Calvin Klein to the Fendi sisters and to make everything front page news.

I remember Ira always reinforced his original strategy to transform Bergdorf Goodman, saying, “Bergdorf was old, dull, expensive and intimidating, and we set out to make it young, exciting, expensive and intimidating.”

The greatest thing I learned from Ira was how he stayed so young. He would frequently call me and say, “Robert I have an idea ….” Ira was always thinking, always creating and always caring for the future society and helping the next generating learn and become better than the last.

Ultimately, as I think about my dear friend Ira, he was more than anyone I’ve ever met in my life the embodiment of a true gentleman.

Here is a video of Ira taken last summer, which shares Ira’s retail brilliance and the one message he always spoke about the true role of the customer.