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From tallying stock to steering the ship

From tallying stock to steering the ship

Borsheims CEO recounts her unusual path' to the top spot

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From tallying stock to steering the ship

Karen Goracke

Karen Goracke knew little about fine jewelry, but had a knack for inventory, when she went to work for Borsheims as a college graduate in 1988.

As a gift sales department employee, she became frustrated with the family business's informal stock-keeping system. Ultimately it was her effort to organize the jeweler's tens of millions of dollars' worth of inventory for the data-driven era of modern retailing that propelled her on the path to the CEO's office.

Goracke discussed her career and today's retailing challenges with an audience of sales professionals Thursday evening. The SalesTalk networking event was hosted by Verde Martin consultants at All Makes Office Equipment.

Goracke told the group, to laughter, that in 1988 Borsheims still took inventory by hand with an adding machine. As a young employee, she said she thought to herself, "This is just not what my business statistics teacher told me it was going to be like."

When Berkshire Hathaway acquired Borsheims the following year, Warren Buffett wanted the shop to more carefully watch how its capital investment in inventory performed. Goracke became the inventory supervisor, and later a buyer and director of merchandise, before being named president and chief executive officer in 2013. She called it an "unusual path" but an "incredible journey."

Today, Borsheims faces new challenges from online-only jewelry retailers. Keeping costs down is essential to staying competitive, Goracke said.

The recent decision to close the Borsheims boutique shop at Nebraska Crossing Outlets does not rule out future stores for Borsheims. With the overall retail sector seeing tepid sales over this past winter and into spring, she wondered, "Is it the best time right now?"

Still, Goracke told the group, "I would love to see that. I think we can expand."

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