The Player: Rosenblatt charged with boosting loyalty for Saks

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"A friend of mine called and said `So, you're really going to work in retail?'" Rob Rosenblatt said, discussing his latest career change. He's not going to swipe credit cards behind a counter, mind you. But as the new senior VP in charge of customer relationship management at Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises, Mr. Rosenblatt plans to get pretty close to those customers.

The venerable upscale retailer is banking on CRM in a fight for market share among affluent consumers not easily swayed by coupons or contests. Mr. Rosenblatt, 44, heads a new CRM unit charged with creating ways to reach shoppers. The 14-person group will use Saks' existing resources, including its SaksFirst loyalty program, credit card and catalog, to build a one-on-one relationship with shoppers.

"The task for us is simple. It's to bring those tools together," Mr. Rosenblatt said.

Coming from a background in financial services, Mr. Rosenblatt said he is looking forward to working in retail.

"I know it's not an easy business, but it's a business I've always loved," he said.

His contacts with retailers go back to his role in the birth of American Express Co.'s loyalty program, Membership Rewards. As senior VP and general manager at American Express, Mr. Rosenblatt helped expand the nascent loyalty program beyond travel rewards.

"We realized one size doesn't fit all and not everyone wants to travel," he said. So American Express added merchandise, dining and services partners.

Ironically, Mr. Rosen- blatt recalled, one of his most exhaustive merchant negotiations in those early days was with Saks Fifth Avenue.

"Luckily for me and my career, I was able to convince Saks," he said. The retailer is still a partner in Membership Rewards.

During 14 years with American Express, Mr. Rosenblatt worked on designing a variety of value-added credit card programs, including the launch of the American Express Centurion card, the ultra-premium credit product for affluent customers. He also launched the Delta SkyMiles card, the Costco Cash Rebate card and several philanthropic affinity cards.

taking risks

He left American Express to become chief executive of US Loyalty Corp., a startup universal mass-market loyalty program with exclusive partners in 15 retail categories. But the company fell victim to merchant turnover.

"After losing our grocer for the third time, we decided to fold our tent," he said. He got another chance to try to build a universal program as CEO of iFormation Group, another startup he joined after a stint as a consultant helping the Virgin Group launch co-branded credit cards.

His experience launching credit cards at American Express was impressive, as was his work building loyalty programs, said Sheri Wilson-Gray, exec VP-chief marketing officer at Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises, parent of the department stores and Saks Off Fifth outlets. "We're new to this. It was imperative for us to attract someone who was ahead of the curve," she said. "He's a first-class guy and his experience set is wonderful."

Fast Facts

Name: Rob Rosenblatt

Age: 44

Now: Senior VP, Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises

Challenge: To find new ways to approach luxury customers via customer relationship management, including loyalty programs and direct marketing.

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