LSU Chemical Engineering Alumnus Becomes Macy’s CFO
May 23, 2022
BATON ROUGE, LA – Problem solving and critical thinking can lead someone down many career paths, whether it be engineering, business, or in the case of one LSU alumnus, both. LSU Chemical Engineering alumnus Adrian Mitchell has utilized his engineering and business degrees to become chief financial officer of iconic retailer Macy’s Inc., during one of the most challenging times in the company’s 164-year history.
Born in Jamaica and raised in Baton Rouge, Mitchell excelled in math and science during high school, which made chemical engineering a natural next step, he said. In 1996, he earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from LSU’s College of Engineering, along with a minor in chemistry.
“At its core, chemical engineering is all about problem solving and critical thinking,” Mitchell said. “My time studying chemical engineering got me comfortable with numbers and looking at problems from different angles. I’ve used those core principles throughout my entire career.”
After graduating from LSU, Mitchell took a job at McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting company based in Chicago, where he worked with clients on large-scale transformations in the consumer space.
“I found my passion for retail after my first case study and knew that was the direction I wanted to take in my career,” he said.
Mitchell then left McKinsey to earn his MBA at Harvard Business School.
“What was most impactful with my Harvard Business School experience was translating the engineer mindset on problem solving into a business context,” he said in a 2020 Bloomberg interview. “It was really a magical experience.”
Mitchell’s first operational opportunity was at Target, where he served as corporation director and led a redesign of the company’s digital and mobile platforms from 2007 to 2010. He then worked at Crate & Barrel until 2015, serving as CFO, COO, and interim CEO, followed by a one-year stint as CEO and board director for Arhaus, a national furniture company. He then moved to Boston Consulting Group, where he served as managing director and partner of Digital BCG & Consumer Practices from 2017 to 2020. Macy’s came calling in 2020.
“I joined Macy’s at a pivotal time in the company’s business and have been given the opportunity to reimagine a 164-year-old business to be relevant today and in the future,” he said. “My familiarity with data science and analytics allows me to apply a critical lens and approach issues more methodically.”
According to Mitchell, Macy’s, which comprises Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury, went through a challenging period at the beginning of the pandemic while having recently launched Polaris, its long-term business strategy designed to improve the company’s underlying cost structure and better position the company for long-term growth. Towards the end of 2020, it was obvious Macy’s would need to redesign Polaris based on evolved shopping habits during the pandemic, and it needed someone at the helm. Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette saw Mitchell as the right person for the role of CFO to steer Macy’s in the right direction.
“Financially, Macy’s is a much healthier company today,” Mitchell said. “My team and I have achieved this through repaying corporate debt early and refinancing our remaining debt, which provides the company a five-year runway to invest in growth initiatives for the business and return capital to shareholders.”
Since becoming Macy’s CFO, Mitchell and his team have improved the profitability of the business through various strategic moves, raised the minimum wage of its employees, and created a debt-free education program for all of their colleagues.
“As of May 1, all of our stores have a $15-an-hour minimum wage, which brings our average total pay to $20 an hour,” he said. “We’re partnering with Guild Education to provide our colleagues an industry-leading educational assistance program that covers 100% of tuition costs for two- and four-year degrees and professional certifications. By investing in our colleagues’ education and financial well-being, we hope to empower them to come to work every day with the motivation, passion, and determination needed to drive Macy’s success.”
Mitchell acknowledges that his career path is not a typical one for someone with an engineering degree but says success lies in adaptation.
“In today’s every-changing world, you must be able to quickly and efficiently adapt to different situations,” he said. “Never stop learning, remain curious, ask thoughtful questions, and be open to new ways of doing things. Leaning into situations where you may not be comfortable is where you grow both as a professional and as a person. I’d also encourage college students to think outside the box when it comes to choosing a career. Take the time to explore all avenues so that you choose a path that pushes you to learn something new every day.”
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Contact: Libby Haydel