What does it take to be a leader? Alumna Julie Greiner ’75 (B.A. business administration) shared not only words of wisdom about leadership but also how to be successful in any career.
The former chief merchandising officer for Macy’s before she retired last year, says of her 40-year career: “I always liked the work … I liked the choices that I made.”
But it didn’t appear to be her career choice initially. “As a young person, I didn’t want to be a corporate executive,” she shared with students this week at the Women’s Leadership Program, “Embracing Change: Lessons in Leadership.”
She didn’t even plan a career on business when was first a student at Cal State Fullerton. She studied fine arts for a year before switching to business and thought that she might get a business position in an arts field. But as she pointed out “plans and reality don’t always intersect.”
But Greiner found that she also had an analytical side, and that she could balance the creative with the analytical side.
The CSUF alumna began as a trainee at J.W. Robinson’s in Los Angeles, then became a buyer. After years with the company, when she was offered a new position, she originally said no. “I didn’t want to go into a new area. I thought I knew better.”
It was the first of the many lessons she would learn: to be open to change.
She recalled these were the days before there was no cell phones, no email and no faxes. “So, I didn’t call home or work often. I learned by my gut and by the numbers.”
She also learned when it was important to fight against something and when it was better to ignore it, and even when she disagreed with someone, she could learn a lot.
As she moved up the corporate ranks, she learned important lessons for supervising others: to be accommodating to those you need and value, that everyone in the company brings something to the table, and humor can often break the ice and lead to good working relationships.
One of the important jobs of her career, Greiner noted, was when she was asked to run a department store — and again, she didn’t want the job. “But I was convinced to do it.
“I was relatively reserved and this job put me into an uncomfortable position,” she explained. It was very different from her prior experiences. “It felt like one of the most difficult jobs I’d had but that was great.”
In every job she had, there was something that she learned. As her positions changed, “the jobs before were critical elements that led to the new one.
“Change is inevitable… roll with the punches,” she said. “See how you can grow with change, see it as positive … and see how you can help others — that’s the essence of leadership.”