Markopoulos Award 2017

By Jenny S. Rebholz

The coveted Markopoulos Award represents more than recognition for distinctive career accomplishments. For its recipients, it is an honor to be acknowledged and respected by their peers—The Markopolous Circle.

The award honors the legacy of the late Andrew Markopolous. His tenure as senior vice president of visual merchandising and store design for the department store division of Dayton-Hudson set the bar high for achievements in store design and visual merchandising. His work elevated the field from a trade to an art form.

Each new recipient joins The Markopolous Circle. With this honor comes the tremendous responsibility of selecting future winners. Honorees are nominated by their peers and selected by The Markopolous Circle based on their lifetime achievements and overall career accomplishments, their ability to innovate and inspire, their contributions to the success of a retailer or company, their ability to nurture and mentor young talent, and their ongoing contributions and support of the retail design and visual industries.

The 21st recipient, Linda Lombardi, head of global store design for Godiva Chocolatier Inc., has enjoyed a diverse design career that has included working with global brands and companies at pivotal moments in their legacies to help them innovate and stay at the top of their games.

Growing up in Westchester, N.Y., Lombardi’s passion for retail began in high school at the local mall. It wasn’t due to teenage shopping sprees, but rather embracing her surroundings at her part-time job. She was captivated by fashion and the process of the floor and window displays being constantly changed. This experience left an indelible mark that guided her to pursue this passion and explore the professional possibilities of the retail world at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).

From playing a part in window theater with Saks Fifth Avenue to exploring the meaning of hospitality with The Inn at Perry Cabin to churning out retail experiences with Liz Claiborne and elevating the brand experience for Godiva, Lombardi has worked in men’s fashion, home furnishings, hospitality and the culinary world of chocolate.

With more than 25 years in the industry working for a prestigious list of global brands, she has a long list of accolades and accomplishments. During her close to 14 years with Liz Claiborne, she was at one point dealing with more than 40 brands under one corporate umbrella. In 2012, Lombardi was recognized as a Retail Design Influencer and as a Luminary in 2013 as part of design:retail’s Portfolio Awards. Under her leadership, the Godiva retail store and visual merchandising efforts were recognized multiple times for design excellence.

Lombardi’s accomplishments with Godiva are particularly noteworthy, as she has helped change the global face of the brand. She guided the company’s entrance into emerging markets, such as Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and China. Since 2010, she has overseen the design and opening of 68 boutiques in Mainland China, including flagships in Shanghai and Beijing. She also led the concept development for one-of-a-kind Godiva destinations in Istanbul, Harrods in London and New York. Her colleagues are highly complimentary of her contributions to the success of this global brand.

“I met Linda as head of visual for Liz Claiborne; I actually recruited her for Godiva,” says Ed Jankowski, CEO of airport retailer XpresSpa and formerly senior vice president, head of North America for Godiva when Lombardi was brought on board. “Godiva needed a new head of store and visual, and in a five-year period, she single-handedly developed a new store prototype and rolled it out around the world.”

Jim Goldman, who was the CEO at Godiva from 2004 to 2014 (and currently is senior advisor for Eurazeo, on the board of directors of Domino’s Pizza and an investor and board member with Sugarfina), was immediately impressed from the moment he hired Lombardi. “She lived up to my expectations,” Goldman says. “Linda did so much for Godiva. She enhanced our retail presence and our brand stature.”

According to Goldman, Lombardi did a terrific job redefining what Godiva looked like at retail and was the driver of Godiva’s award-winning new store design. He believes that under her direction, Godiva was showcased in a new, more contemporary, brand-enhancing way. “She brought a practical business perspective to the design, and sales improved because of the new concept,” he adds.

As a global brand, Goldman describes the challenge of dealing with the numerous perspectives and voices from across the world. “Everyone at Godiva has a strong opinion and an incredible passion for the brand,” Goldman says. “Linda was respectful of everyone. She listened to all voices and then took leadership in driving a perspective that was respected by all. That amount of trust and respect from the team says a lot about Linda and the way she works.”

The recipe for success for Lombardi, as witnessed by colleagues such as Goldman and Jankowski, is her combination of visual and business acumen, as well as her strong communication and leadership skills.

“Linda has a unique ability to communicate a creative vision that people understand and appreciate, and, at the same time, is business-minded. It is the best of both worlds,” Goldman says.

“As creative as she is, she is practical from a business point of view. She understands the practicality of rolling out a vision across a global platform,” Jankowski describes. “That combination of visual and business acumen results in spaces that are functional, profitable and beautiful.”

As the recipient of this honor, it is clear that Lombardi is a respected retail professional, but she credits her success to her support system, starting with her family. “With my global work and tremendous travel, the support of my husband (Cosmo Romeo) and daughter (Nicole Romeo) has been incredible,” she says. “They understand how important my work is to me. Without their support at home, my professional accomplishments wouldn’t be possible.”

Lombardi further recognizes the support of the numerous vendors. “You go from one company to the next and they follow you,” she notes. “You are only as successful as the vendors, the ones that show up and do so much to support your vision. They are so much a part of the success for me.”

“Everyone loves working with Linda,” Jankowski says. “This recognition is a tribute to her years in the industry and the people she has touched along the way.”

Lombardi not only cares about her team, she cares about the future of the industry. She demonstrates that commitment year after year through her involvement with the Planning and Visual Education Partnership (PAVE). Coming from a family of educators, it is only natural that she has an affinity for education and understands the importance of fostering the next generation of retail professionals.

She has served on PAVE’s board of directors, including a position as vice president, and co-chaired the PAVE Gala numerous times. “Every time my term is up, I just wait out the term limits and come back again. I will continue to support PAVE as long as they want me around,” she says.

From her own work to her role as a mentor, Lombardi believes in taking a positive approach to the people and organizations she works with. This is something she learned from one of her industry mentors, Rose Marie Bravo. “She taught me the importance of bringing the ‘person’ to the business,” Lombardi explains. “She is a positive, inspiring and magical person. She stressed how important the strong friendships and bonds you develop are, both professionally and personally.”

Lombardi also believes in having fun, saying: “I have fun at work. As they say, ‘when you enjoy what you do then you never work a day in your life.’ If the fun stops, then it is time to re-evaluate what to do.”

The fun isn’t stopping any time soon for Lombardi. She is excited about the future of the industry, from the growing global awareness and emerging markets to exciting connections being made between retail and hospitality. But, for this brief moment, she will stop and relish this recognition.

“This honor comes from a group of the most successful people in the industry. It is amazing and thrilling,” she says. “I am so touched by it. I appreciate it and hope I can impact the industry with future selections for this unique and special circle.”


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