Christopher Baldwin ’85 visited Siena College on Monday, April 9th for The Lewis Golub Executive Lecture Series. Currently the President and CEO of BJs Wholesale Club, as well as Chairman of the Board of the National Retail Federation, he graduated from Siena in 1985 with a Bachelor of Science in Economics.
Baldwin has held positions at Hess Retail Corporation, Procter and Gamble, Kraft Foods Group, and the Hershey Company.
When speaking on why he took the position of CEO of BJ’s Wholesale Club, Baldwin said, “I wanted to see if I could take a swing at recreating the place,” and recreate he did.
Baldwin hasn’t always been someone who was a business powerhouse, and he wasn’t someone with an easy life molded for him. He grew up as one of five siblings whose mother worked long hours as a nurse to send him to college. In his own words, he was lucky to have been accepted to Siena, and once there, he was a “spectacularly average” student.
Baldwin’s life hasn’t always been about business. He took time off from working at Procter and Gamble to become a friar in an attempt to pursue something that was important to him. However, he decided not to take his vows and ceased to continue, but his two-year experience changed his life either way.
Although Baldwin has many responsibilities in the food retail industry, he finds the time to give back to the community. He serves as an executive board member at Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership, a school-based nonprofit that provides educational intervention, leadership training, and lacrosse for at-risk youth. Aside from being involved with the community, Baldwin is a family man who is happily married to his wife while raising his two daughters.
Seeming to take a liking to the food retail industry, Baldwin acknowledges the fact that he works in an industry and company that are rapidly transforming. Because of this, his experiences as part of the working/middle class, and his community and family-oriented nature, Baldwin seeks to instill a culture of service within BJs Wholesale Club.
“Service is all that really matters,” said Baldwin. “What we will always do is make sure we are serving every constituency possible in the best way we know how. My job is to serve those people, those customers, and those communities. If I do that well, then we are doing just fine.”
When asked if retail will matter in the future due to the ever-expanding web and online realm, Baldwin answered, “Absolutely.” According to him, the retail industry in America provides 42 million job, has one million retail establishments, and makes up 32 percent of Americans’ first jobs. He also discussed the rising demand of fresh products, which online purchasing can’t provide.
Fresh food is a huge part of BJs Wholesale Club’s business. Their fresh food supply constantly expands, and they help provide it by rotating merchandise and not taking part in fresh food via online.
They strive to supply three things: value, convenience, and freshness.
“I make sure everyone in the company knows what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they can be a part of it,” said Baldwin.
He concluded his lecture by giving advice to the audience about what they should consider as they develop their career. Among these things, he listed quantitative skills, strategic agility, digital fluency, and, most importantly, watches versus calendars.
With the concept of watches versus calendars, Baldwin explained that it’s a new world – we aren’t looking to develop five-year plans anymore, we are looking to live in the present and go day-by-day. Because of this, people should turn to their watches when thinking about timelines and deadlines instead of looking at their monthly calendars.
Lastly, Baldwin made sure to bring attention to the fact that there is nobody better at ‘being you than you’. He says to be yourself, act with integrity, be empathetic, and look to serve first – never underestimate your ability to drive change.
“At Siena I learned that empathy, the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes and serve them, is everything. The question is how you’re going to use it.”