February 3, 2004 - Richmond Times-Dispatch: Had Benjamin DeWinter heard earlier from the Peace Corps, he would have gone to Ethiopia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ethiopia: Peace Corps Ethiopia : The Peace Corps in Ethiopia: February 3, 2004 - Richmond Times-Dispatch: Had Benjamin DeWinter heard earlier from the Peace Corps, he would have gone to Ethiopia

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-141-157-42-145.balt.east.verizon.net - on Thursday, February 05, 2004 - 11:44 pm: Edit Post

Had Benjamin DeWinter heard earlier from the Peace Corps, he would have gone to Ethiopia

Had Benjamin DeWinter heard earlier from the Peace Corps, he would have gone to Ethiopia

Benjamin DeWinter took a job three years ago that he will never forget.

"It was the greatest adventure," he said about his job in Saudi Arabia.

DeWinter has had his share of distinct jobs during a career of nearly 40 years in the retail industry. He had held mostly management or executive positions at several department-store chains, each having its own set of challenges.

But his most ambitious experience came managing the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia -- the first Saks store outside the United States. The upscale retailer opened the store in the tony Kingdom Centre mall in November 2001.

"It was not only a wonderful experience and adventure, but I learned a great deal," said DeWinter, who managed the Riyadh store from January 2001 until March 2003. He returned to the United States to become manager at the Saks store at the Stony Point Fashion Park in Richmond, which opened in September.

"The job in Riyadh certainly prepares you for almost anything that comes along," he said.

The cultural differences and language barrier made it challenging.

For instance, about 70 percent of the Saks store in Riyadh was dedicated solely for women, because Saudi women may not shop with men other than their relatives.

Men, including DeWinter, were not permitted in those women-only areas, which included the store's entire second floor and parts of the first floor.

The second floor of the mall also was women-only. The shopping center and office tower were developed by Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, an international businessman who is a large shareholder in Saks Inc.

"The only time I could go [to the second floor] was when the store was closed, so it became interesting to deal with issues that came up," DeWinter said.

The 57,000-square-foot store also closed four times daily for prayer. But it stayed opened later than typical U.S. stores, and generated 80 percent of its sales from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. During the monthlong fast of Ramadan, it operated until 3 a.m.

The employees at the Saks store lived in Saudi Arabia but came from all over the world.

"It was a real challenge to get everyone to work together and build a team," he said.

DeWinter also added more European designer clothing while eliminating many of the American lines traditionally found in Saks stores.

He traveled to Italy, France and elsewhere on buying trips, which Saks store managers don't typically go on.

"That part of the job really enlightened him," said Reggie Morton, the Middle East consultant hired by Saks.

Morton, who worked closely with DeWinter in the year before the Saudi Arabia store opened, said DeWinter wanted to learn everything he could about the culture and the customer.

"He is a good listener and a good observer," she said. "He adapted to everything."

Morton and others describe DeWinter as outgoing, sensitive, curious and analytical. Some of his employees said he can be intense and focused.

"He is intense. But he is intense in the most positive way," said Sanford Sacks, a retired executive vice president of Marshall Field's who hired DeWinter to open the chain's first store in Texas in 1979.

"He was always in motion and always thinking ahead," Sacks said.

DeWinter's Saudi Arabia experience taught him to be patient.

"Because it is so difficult to get things accomplished on the first try over there, you just learn to be patient and you learn to how to deal with people and you learn how to work through people," DeWinter said.

He decided to move back to the United States last March. His contract was up, the Richmond store was getting ready to open and he was concerned about the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Yet his career in retailing almost didn't happen.

Shortly after graduating from college in 1964, DeWinter applied for the Peace Corps and, as a backup, filled out an application for a job at the J.L. Hudson Co. department store in downtown Detroit.

His hope was to join the Peace Corps and then get into government service.

Hudson offered him a management trainee position. He took it.

Several months later, the Peace Corps accepted him and wanted to send him to Ethiopia.

"At that point, I was pretty involved in the retail scene, and [I] stuck with retail," DeWinter said. "I had always been interested in government service. Had I potentially heard earlier from the Peace Corps, my career would be different, and I might be sitting in Rangoon rather than Richmond."

DeWinter held a variety of jobs at Hudson's until 1969.

He then took management positions at Rike's in Dayton, Ohio; Bonwit Teller in Boston; Holt Renfrew in Toronto; and Marshall Field's in Houston.

Marshall Field's named DeWinter the manager of its store in the Water Tower Place in Chicago.

Managing that store, which had the highest sales volume in the chain, was a real coup for him, Sacks said. "He was a star."

DeWinter later became president and CEO of Madison's, a Columbus, Ohio-based women's specialty chain that shut down in 1994.

He joined Saks at the chain's store in Cincinnati and later managed its Chevy Chase, Md., store.

But his Saudi Arabia assignment tops his list of jobs, he said.

"It was truly a wonderful experience," DeWinter said. "It was so motivationally challenging."

By Gregory J. Gilligan

To see more of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.timesdispatch.com

(c) 2004, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ethiopia



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.