Leading by Example
CEO OF THE YEAR: Laura Sen President and CEO, BJ's Wholesale Club
When BJ's Wholesale President and CEO Laura Sen describes the company she's led for the past seven years as "values driven," it's best to take her at her word. n When retailers flung open their doors on Thanksgiving Day to eager holiday shoppers this past fall, the signs at BJs stayed dark. "Call me old-fashioned, but I think Thanksgiving is a lovely holiday and not the time to be shopping," she told the Boston Globe.
Sen began her career at Zayre Corp., which at the time was a conglomerate of retail businesses, including BJ's. She spent a decade there, then managed a transfer to BJ's when Zayre spun off its warehouse club business in the late 1980s.
"When I came to BJ's I took the chance to run logistics, which was all about supply chain management, distribution, transportation and inventory control," Sen told the audience at the 2012 MIT Sloan Women in Management Conference. "It wasn't my specialty, but BJ's was a startup with 22 clubs at the time, and I was able to help design the original systems."
Sen has remained at BJ's since, save for a brief three-year stint as a consultant advising retailers, manufacturers and brokers on supply chain and business development. She credits this time with giving her valuable experience on the other side of the retailer/supplier relationship.
When Sen returned to BJ's in 2006, it was as an executive vice president–she was named president and CEO within the year. While at the helm, she has focused the BJ's organization on a set of values that she considers to be "a critical imperative when running a business."
BJ's values are simple: respect others; speak with truth and candor; act with integrity; succeed as a team; impress members with great service; embrace diversity and give back to the community.
"For me, there can be no business priority that comes before our need for values-driven behavior. We need world-class people, both in talent and in character. And we will not win without insisting on both."
BJ's Wholesale Club
"For me, there can be no business priority that comes before our need for values-driven behavior. We need world-class people, both in talent and in character. And we will not win without insisting on both," she told the audience at MIT.
Today, BJ's Wholesale Club serves more than 9 million members and operates more than 200 club stores across 15 states. Food, including canned, fresh, and frozen items, makes up for about 66 percent of sales at BJ's, according to past public financial statements. BJ's Wholesale Club was purchased by private equity firms Leonard Green and Partners and CVC Capital Partners in 2011.
Named to Fortune magazine's list of the 50 most powerful women in business in 2011, Sen credits lessons learned early in life for her focus on professional excellence.
"At an early age, I learned about the value of excellence. Performance is proof. No one can argue with success, real quantifiable success. For me, the quantifiable part is really important," she said. "There has to be a result, an outcome, a tangible, measurable benefit that you and everyone else can point to and say, 'That worked. She made it happen. No questions about it.'
"To this day, I talk about excellence, expect excellence and reward excellence. It's a major theme of how I've run every business I've been involved in."