The Top Women in Retail 2016: Jan Clevenger, Executive Vice President, General Merchandising Manager, Belk
What do you enjoy most about working in the retail industry?
The challenge. Building out merchandise strategies that move the business over a three-year to five-year time period requires a lot of different skill sets, and the knowledge I’ve built in my 15 years with Belk has served me well. I’m able to bring my unique understanding of our stores to my current role in merchandising. There are assortment nuances between stores of varying volume sizes across our 16-state footprint, and it’s so helpful for me to have visited most of our 300 stores. I understand our customer and I know where our opportunities lie. I’m results oriented, which focuses me on problem solving — a much needed skill set in retail! I love the fast pace and the ability to juggle a lot of different priorities every day. This job is a lot of fun!
If you weren’t working in the retail industry, what do you think you’d be doing?
I would do something in the nonprofit sector. Corporate philanthropy is a part of my company’s focus, and is integral to many of the brands that we do business with each year. To get more involved in my local community, I’ve recently joined the board of directors of the United Way of Central Carolinas. Senior leaders have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens, and that includes everything from sustainability to philanthropy and community involvement. Senior leaders have a responsibility to have a strong set of internal values and ideals, which allows us to be effective at motivating others to act in ways that support the greater good rather than their own self-interests.
How would you describe your leadership style?
My leadership style has been developed throughout my career by modeling the best traits of different managers and by identifying those bad traits that I didn’t want to emulate. Leadership is about meeting the needs of the organization as well as your personal needs, and great leaders know how to modify their style so that they can connect with their teams. I’ve found that the ability to change your style to adapt to your audience allows you to get the best performance out of your team. Getting to know your team is important, as people need to feel valued and have trust in their boss to manage their career. Leaders that “know what they don’t know” and are able to admit to mistakes will be better managers. Recognizing the contributions of team members is important as it highlights the talents and value of the individual and the team.
Do you have any mentors in the retail industry?
Johnny Belk and David Zant have both been great mentors to me over the last 15 years. Belk is a terrific company and has afforded me many different learning opportunities through various roles and responsibilities within the organization. Johnny and David have taught me that empowerment is a key leadership attribute and that sharing decision making with those closest to the actual job helps develop the team and allows them to own their own destiny.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
I love the outdoors so anything I can do outside is a ton of fun. Charlotte offers lake living, so I water ski most every weekend during the summer. This winter I’ve started snow skiing in the mountains around Blowing Rock, N.C., which is less than two hours away. The ocean is another big draw for me, so a trip to Charleston, Ponte Vedra or Longboat Key are always on my short list of places for relaxing time at the beach.