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Interview with Kathleen Ruiz of Saks Incorporated

by Brienne Walsh on March 7, 2011

Kathleen Ruiz is the Vice President of Special Events, Public Relations and Social Media for Saks Incorporated, the parent company of Saks Fifth Avenue. The company—which employs over 10,000 staff members globally—is one of the most well-respected retail outlets in the world.

We caught up with her at her office on Fifth Avenue to talk more about her career, her life, and where she hopes to grow in the coming years.

How did you know that you wanted to work in fashion?

When I was younger, my favorite movie was Miracle on 34th Street (1947); I wanted to be the character that Maureen O’Hara plays in the film—Doris Walker, a Macy’s executive who runs the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I guess in reality, my dream has come true, because it feels like I’m running the parade here at Saks.

What was your first job in fashion?

My first job was with Ike Behar, who at one time designed and produced all of the shirts for Ralph Lauren. I started doing public relations and communications for them soon after I joined the company. I was talented at it, so they asked me to move down and run their operations in Florida. After three years with the company, I decided to leave my position to manufacture my own line of lingerie. I thought that I had learned enough at Ike Behar to run my own business.

What was it like to run your own business?

I quickly realized how expensive it was to produce a fashion line and to hire salespeople; I didn’t have any experience in retail. But instead of just letting the business fail, I decided to go to a luxury retail outlet in the area—Neiman Marcus—to get a part-time job as a salesperson.

How did you get re-involved with marketing and PR?

After working in sales for a while, I realized that marketing and PR was my real passion. So when a position in the field opened up at a Neiman Marcus in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I took it. Pretty soon I was opening stores across Florida, in Coral Cables, West Palm Beach, and Tampa.

When did you start working at Saks?

I was actually driving to the store in Tampa when the attacks occurred in New York on September 11, 2001. It was then that I realized I wanted to return to New York, where I had grown up, and where my family still lives today. Once I got back to New York, it became clear that I was never going to leave again. So I took a position as the Vice President of Marketing for Saks Fifth Avenue’s New York store.

How much did you know about social media before you began your tenure at your current position?

I didn’t have a lot of background in social media, but I understood that in order to grow our marketing efforts, we needed to incorporate it into our media platform. I have some really talented people within the company, and I’ve done a lot of learning through them, as well as on my own. We do a lot of research on who is the best of the best at utilizing the platform.

I truly think that Saks Fifth Avenue has the opportunity to become the first in its class in the world of social media in retail and fashion. I’m really excited to begin something new.

What kind of compromises have you made for your career?

I could never be where I am today if I had to juggle work and children. If I had children (which I don’t), they would have been my top priority. I’m not saying that as a woman, you can’t have it all; there are women who do it. It’s just that I know myself, and I know that I give 100% of myself to whatever I’m doing.

What advice would you give to young women?

Do what you love, because you have to spend a lot of time doing it. Be true to yourself. Be open to opportunities. The most successful people I know are always kind, so make sure that whatever happens in your career, be good to the people you encounter.

Do you have a personal motto?

Never be satisfied. I’m always looking for ways to improve my life, whether it be perfecting an event at the store, or making my country house more beautiful. I’m a “more” woman.” I think that’s how you keep on reaching for the stars.

Links:

Saks Fifth Avenue Website: http://saksfifthavenue.com

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