Catherine Bartels, vice president and general manager at Macy’s Union Square, once worked at The City’s I. Magnin store. After Magnin was bought by Macy’s, she moved up the ranks and through several stores until returning last year to manage the Macy’s in the same building where she began. She’s on the board of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life?
My parents. They encouraged me, supported my education, were always there for me, but let me do things myself. By allowing me to “own” my efforts, I learned what it takes from myself to achieve an “A” versus a “B”, or a “C”. They made me feel I could achieve anything I wanted to if I applied myself and worked hard. My mom always told me to “think for myself.” My dad always told me, “Don’t sweat the little things!”
To whom do you turn to in tough times?
My family and friends for their support and love. If I have that, I can handle the tough times. But, I always challenge myself to continue growing and learning as a person and a leader. I have to look inside, ask myself the tough questions, trust and challenge myself to see other perspectives, what can I learn from a failure or a difficult situation, make sure I am prioritizing correctly and keep a balanced perspective.
Where do you find inspiration?
One of the most inspiring experiences I have had was attending “Camp CEO” for Girl Scouts when I lived in Maryland. I served on the board and the advisory board for the Girl Scout Council of the nation’s capital. The executive director of the council was introduced to me through a mutual friend. She invited me to join the advisory board and attend “Camp CEO” with other female business leaders in the Washington, D.C., area. I am not really a “camper,” but I can tell you I went back to “Camp CEO” every summer I lived in Maryland under the pretense that I was giving inspiration to some terrific teenage girls from many different backgrounds, along with many other amazing women. But, the secret is: I received far more than I gave from all of them. The young women with their questions and challenges about how to navigate high school life, college life and their careers were inspiring.
What one book or piece of writing has had a large impact on you?
Hard to cite just one, as I am an avid reader of both nonfiction and fiction. I would have to say most recently “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace and “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch are good touchstones that will remind you to keep your priorities straight, to be kind and respectful of your fellow humans and to enjoy this life — the awe-inspiring moments and the mundane.
Tell me about Macy’s philanthropy and one particular involvement you’re most proud of.
The great tree lighting in Union Square the day after Thanksgiving is probably my favorite event. Well, maybe tied with the pet adoptions in our windows during the holidays. We have a wonderful partnership with UCSF Children’s Hospital. Everyone can sponsor a light for $5 to benefit UCSF Children’s Hospital. The tree itself is dazzling, and we watch the whole process of putting it up and decorating it. It is a great gift to the people of San Francisco and a great kick off to the holiday season.