Adrienne D'Ippolito, Associate Buyer, TJX
Vault: What is TJX's program like?
D'Ippolito: It's called the Corporate Merchandise Training Program and it begins with the PASE training program. It's basically a career path that takes you through planning before going into buying. You start as an analyst, then become a senior analyst, then an associate planner. After that, you either become a buyer or a planning manager, but you always start in planning.
Vault: Describe planning to me.
D'Ippolito: It's analyzing the business and shipping the goods. You're working with the stores one-on-one, and working with the distributors one-on-one. When you're a buyer, you're working more with the vendors. The buyers buy the product; the planners ship the product to the stores.
When I was in planning, I was in corporate offices in Framingham, which is where I still am. You mostly stay in the office, though you do travel to different stores in the area -- just looking at what you're shipping. You're in charge of where the product goes, verifying that it's all there, and that you shipped it correctly.
As an Associate Planner you assist the Planning Manager. You're learning all about the numbers and the budgets, creating the plans that the Buyers buy to. You're also managing a small group of people with the help of your planning manager. You're essentially creating a budget and unit plans. We have 1,500 stores, and both TJ Maxx and Marshall's Buyers depend on the planning department. It's a lot of quantitative work.
Vault: What did you major in? Did you feel well-equipped for the type of work and is it what you anticipated?
D'Ippolito: I majored in marketing and economics, so I was pretty prepared. It's pretty much what I anticipated, I knew it was going to be a little bit challenging, and I was up to the challenge. They're not just going to make you a Buyer just for showing up. Twenty-five people started with me, and so far four people have become Buyers. Some have become Planning Managers.
Vault: How do you find buying?
D'Ippolito: When you're buying, you're traveling every week, and it's everywhere. Whether it's into the market or a distribution center, or a warehouse, Europe, California or wherever.
Vault: Do you like that?
D'Ippolito: I love it. I'm in New York every week -- the majority of our vendors are in New York. We're in Europe twice a year, London and Paris, sometimes Italy -- in Europe we're buying samples, in some cases we're working with vendors there. California, we're out with vendors too -- sometimes you're in random places like Philadelphia, Ohio, wherever, with people who have warehouses.
Vault: You get to keep your frequent flyer miles?
D'Ippolito: Yes, I do. It's a nice perk, but you can get tired traveling every week& you definitely work for it.
Vault: So when you're traveling are you looking at catalogs or are you actually looking at the product?
D'Ippolito: Oh, I'm looking at the product. Every day I'm looking at product, and touching and feeling product.
You really have to know the trends, and shop every day or every week, and know what's out there. It's really strategic -- thinking outside the box, thinking about the next thing, not focusing on the present, but looking to the future. In this sense, risk-taking is huge.
Vault: How do you know what risks to take?
D'Ippolito: You're going to have to read the market, find out what the department stores are buying. Some of it's gut feeling -- you know what's going to be a hot item, from traveling all around, reading magazines, and word of mouth.
Vault: Do you get to choose what department you work in?
D'Ippolito: Not really, it's what the needs of the business are, and management knows what you're strengths and weaknesses are. I started off in Children's and then Men's and then Women's. I've been in Ladies' for two years. Where you are depends on the needs of the business.
Vault: How quickly do you move through the program?
D'Ippolito: For me, it was six months to senior analyst. It took me an additional year to become an associate planner. Then fourteen months to become a buyer. But it basically depends. It could take you five years; it could take you three years. It depends on the needs of the business and how aggressive you are.
Vault: Are there any training opportunities outside of your regular on-the-job training?
D'Ippolito: There's constant training -- you get upgrades on the system, and you've got to train on that. And as you head up into the management positions, starting with the senior analyst and associate planner positions, you take leadership classes -- things like how to handle difficult situations when you're managing people, how to give constructive criticism.
You also have a constant mentor, a "buyer buddy." It's an official program where you have an experienced buyer that helps you with any challenging issues. As an analyst in planning, you have a buyer buddy to help you get acclimated to the company. Every other month you have lunch with them.
And every March there are reviews, which provide great structure. The reviews are very helpful, they tell you what you need to work on, and where they see you going next, and it gives you sort of a road map to get where you need to go.