Head of Saks Fifth Avenue is ideally suited for his job

Saks Fifth Avenue Chairman and CEO Steve Sadove addresses guests at the 10th annual Vegas Dozen event at Saks Fifth Avenue at Fashion Show mall on April 17.
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Vegas Dozen

Steve Sadove is tracing his career path that led him to his current position as CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue, winding from his time as president of Clairol and climbing the ladder to the top floor of Saks. He speaks of his somewhat moderate sense of fashion, offering, “I love Charvet shirts and ties. I wouldn’t even have known the brands before (Saks).”

You have to chuckle, as Sadove oversees one of the world’s most prominent fashion retailers. But he’s not an overtly flashy dresser, a suit-and-tie guy who simply knows how to navigate a corporation.

“I do feel like I understand fashion and inside of the business, and I love the clothes … but one of the things that I really recognize was, I will never be the merchant, and I will never be the one who is going be the style setter,” he says. “Much of what I do is making sure I have the right team and the right prototype.”

Sadove was in town last week for the 10th annual Vegas Dozen fete at Saks Fifth Avenue at Fashion Show mall. The list of honorees at the charity event benefiting the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and sponsored by sister publication Vegas Magazine: Flamingo headliner Donny Osmond; Joe W. Brown, attorney, Fennemore Craig Jones Vargas; Kim Canteenwalla, chef, Honey Salt; Jon Gray, vice president and GM of The Linq; Toyota dealership magnate Fletcher Jones III; NFL Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden; Scott Sibella, president and COO, MGM Grand; interior designer Roger Thomas; Brett Torino, developer of Harmon Corner; Jesse Waits, owner and managing partner, XS, Tryst and Botero; Dana Wagner, co-host, KSNV Channel 3’s “Waking Up With the Wagners”; and Dr. Dylan Wint, Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

“American Idol” Season 5 champion Taylor Hicks, headlining at Napoleon’s at Paris Las Vegas, played at the start of the event, which began in the main runway of Fashion Show — allowing the honorees to model their Saks duds, provided for the evening — and streamed back into the store.

Sadove sat for an interview a few minutes before the program. Some of the nuggets imparted:

He once presented Stefanie Graf a lot of money: “I used to love tennis. Many years before I worked with Saks, I used to present the winner’s check at the U.S. Open. In fact, I presented it to Steffi Graf one year when she won because I was with Clairol hair company, and we were the sponsors.”

He visited the Lou Ruvo Center for the first time last week: “Camille (Ruvo) took me around, and I was blown away. It was so impressive, and you know the passion that family has and what they’ve been able to create. My wife’s aunt succumbed to Alzheimer’s, and I have relatives and friends with Parkinson’s. You see so many people affected, and you see the work that they’re doing and the passion and the amount of money that they’ve been able to raise — it’s remarkable, and so for us to be a small part of that is terrific.”

What he wears is important, but …: “It’s less about what I wear and more about what my wife wears. They want to know what designer she’s wearing. ... It’s always a question, if we’re going out to dinner or if we’re going to an event, she has to wear that designer’s line. If we’re honoring a designer at an event, then she has to wear it.”

He is not a proponent of customer profiling: “No, never. … I used to tell stories of my mother, who would pal around in Washington, and her best friend who was one of the wealthiest women in the city. The two of them — you’ve got to imagine these 70-year-old women walking around in tennis shoes and sweatpants, and they’d want to spend a lot of money, and nobody would pay attention to them. So, I’m very much about having you not profile people and judge them, and that’s how you create a service culture.”

Las Vegas might have more distribution points — or places where you can buy branded fashion merchandise — than any city in the world: “It starts with being such a big piece of the tourism and international market. … I think there might even be more distribution points in Las Vegas than New York. … This is the place where people from all over the world come to get a brand, a Louis Vuitton, a Gucci, a Prada … There are many micro-markets within Las Vegas. Whether it’s the hotel-casinos, or the geography, the climate is such that you can be in one hotel, and you have a customer base that’s very much fixated in shopping in that community, and you can go down let’s say a quarter of a mile down the road, and it’s a whole different market. You do have that diversity in Las Vegas.

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