Sunday, January 25, 2004

Look Who's Talking

By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

James Zimmerman is now turning his energies to community projects.
(Tony Jones/The
Cincinnati Enquirer)

Former Federated chairman

James Zimmerman retired this month as chairman of Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores after 38 years with the nation's largest upscale department store operator.

Zimmerman, 60, passed the torch to Terry Lundgren. While he says he has washed his hands of retailing for at least the next two years, Zimmerman leaves open the possibility of an eventual return to the department store world. For now, attention to his family and civic duties in Cincinnati are his priorities. Zimmerman is a key player in downtown development as vice chairman of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., known as 3CDC. He'll also spend time promoting the Success By 6 initiative, aimed at bringing business, government, educators and families together to make sure young children enter school with the skills to succeed.

RECESSION, LOW CONSUMER CONFIDENCE and high unemployment have hurt retailing, but many analysts think Federated is in the best position to bring shoppers back to its stores and rebound from stagnant sales. Are you satisfied with the direction in which the company is headed?

Among the things that I am most proud of as I leave is that Federated has become best in class in what we do. Of course, that's not all because of me. But when I leave, I'm confident that I'm leaving the company in better shape than it was when I got here.

IT SEEMS CLEAR that next on your agenda is helping to create a top-of-class business district in which strong retail development will be a key to growth. What's your reaction to recent announcements by some key retailers, including Banana Republic and Williams-Sonoma, that they will leave downtown?

We'd obviously like to have nobody pull out. We're confident that something inviting with a lot of buy-in will be in place by the middle of 2004. I would tell downtown retailers, "Don't leave now. Wait and see how the plans come together.'' We (3CDC) are very excited about where we are headed.

HOW WILL YOU KEEP busy when you're not involved in downtown development?

Well, I won't be playing golf five days a week. When I was running the company, I was out of Cincinnati much more than I was in Cincinnati. Now, I'll have more time to devote to the Cincinnati community and philanthropic efforts such as Success by 6. This is arguably the most important single issue in our community. If we don't get our children prepared for kindergarten, the future is hopeless. And this community will accomplish more long term if we get our children ready for kindergarten. Hopefully, Success by 6 will move the needle.

HAVE YOU COMPLETELY ruled out a return to retailing?

If two years from now I decide that I've got to have the keys and go run something, I'm still young enough to do that.

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