If you’ve bought a lamp at Sears, a cushion at Kmart, or sheets at Land’s End over the last few years, you’ve come under the influence of Theresa Strickland, chief home design strategy and branding officer at Sears Holdings, which operates all three chains.
Her job, from which she recently retired to launch a new imitative, involved managing a team of 100 designers, brand and trend merchants who are pretty much in charge of choosing and selling all of the home merchandise. In between holding similar positions at Cost Plus World Market and Pottery Barn, Strickland earned an Executive MBA at Santa Clara’s Leavey School, where she also occasionally teaches undergraduate introduction to business classes.
“I love Santa Clara,” said Strickland during a recent interview near her Burlingame home (she also has residences in Chicago and New York). “There’s something about the Jesuit approach to ethics that resonates with me, even though I’m Jewish. To me, ethics and integrity are everything. “
Strickland, who completed the degree in 2004, said she wasn’t sure initially that she needed an MBA after years as a successful upper-level retail manager. As an undergraduate at Chico State University, she’d created her own independent degree in fashion design, merchandising and business education as she started her career. The executive program at Santa Clara appealed to her because she knew other members of her cohort also would be top executives.
“I think I was a little naive going in,” she said. “Business school wasn’t easy for me, although I had an easier time with marketing than some of my classmates. I met unbelievable people that I still talk to. The professors all had great connections to retailing.”
Although the mother of two adult children took an executive vice president job with Cost Plus World Market mid-way through the degree, she was determined to finish the program. She credits the faculty not only for the quality of their teaching, but their encouragement and lessons in leadership.
“They let me know that nurturing and love can be a part of the work place,” she said. “I’m a tough cat and I have no trouble expressing myself. I’m good at what I do. I know just what to do to make a product successful, but Santa Clara taught me about emphasizing leadership.”
— Sandy Burnett