By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Westborough – Laura Sen, the head of BJ's Wholesale Club Inc., is one of only a few women who are Chief Executive Officers (CEO) of Fortune 500 companies. She was also noted by Forbes magazine in 2010 as the 82nd most powerful woman in business. On Sept. 22, 200 members of the Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce heard from Sen as she recounted some of her business philosophies and her thoughts on the sale of BJ's to two private equity firms earlier this year.
Sen first started with BJ's in 1989 and rose through the executive ranks until a change in leadership forced her out in 2003. Three years later, at the behest of former Chair of the Board Herbert Zarkin, she came back to the company. She now holds the title of president and CEO.
Through the years, there have been five principles (or “P's” as she calls them) that guide her in leading the company. Four of those principles – product, prices, place and promotion – were all important, she noted. But it was the fifth one – people – that was really key.
“Clients only see the product on the floor,” she said. “They don's see all the work that has been done behind the scenes to get it there. We have nearly $1 billion in assets in our warehouses, but human capital is our biggest asset.”
She added that basic values, such as respecting others, speaking with truth and candor, and giving back to the community were also hallmarks of her leadership style.
“Succeeding as a team is my favorite part of the business,” she added.
As part of her commitment to her employees, Sen tries as much as possible to be transparent. That included, she said, keeping all of her employees in the loop as the rumors of a possible sale ran rampant over the last few months. As a result, she said, the team members “felt informed and safe.”
The eventual sale to the private equity firms was a positive thing for shareholders, she said. Before the sale, the stocks were trading in the $30 to $40 range. On the day of the sale, they traded at $51.25.
Sen said as part of its mission to invest in clients, the company has decided to shut down some locations and move to new ones, such as the recent closing of the Westborough store and the opening of a new one in Northborough.
“The old site was not optimal for what BJ's has to offer our customers,” she said.
Sen noted that food and consumables account for 80 percent of BJ's business. The company is working, she added, to try to convince customers BJ's is a great place to do their weekly shopping and not just a destination for when they need to stock up on particular items.
One other recent major change was relocating the corporate offices from Natick to Westborough.
It was important, she said, if communities wanted to attract companies like BJ's, they need to ensure that they could encourage a smooth regulatory process.
“Folks in local government don's always see things from both sides of the equation,” she added. “When we don's have to go through a lot of regulatory measures, stores can go up pretty quickly.”