A private graveside service will be held Sunday for Joel H. Newman, a well-respected apparel and retail executive.
Newman, 82, died Aug. 3 at New York Presbyterian Hospital from complications from a fall he incurred last weekend, according to his son, Dan.
During a career that spanned the retail and wholesale industries, Newman gained a reputation as a seasoned executive well-versed in financial, operating and administrative activities. His major roles included president of Calvin Klein Industries, chief financial officer of Tommy Hilfiger, and president of Kohl’s Department Stores.
Born on the Lower East Side of New York, Newman spent most of his life in the New York area. He attended Bentley High School in Jackson Heights, Queens, and graduated from New York University in 1962. While in high school he met his future wife, Sheila, at an ice cream parlor and they dated throughout high school and college and married after Newman graduated.
Armed with an accounting degree, Newman’s first job was with Unilever, but he quickly moved into the retail industry by taking a job in finance at Bloomingdale’s. Newman then spent 16 years at the Batus Retail Division of BAT Industries. He was senior vice president of planning and research on the corporate staff at Batus Retail and held posts at Saks Fifth Avenue. He rose to become president of its Kohl’s Department Stores unit.
In 1984, Newman made the switch to the wholesale side of the business and joined Calvin Klein Industries as executive vice president. The following year he was named president, succeeding Robert J. Suslow, his one-time boss at Batus. At CKI, Newman assumed responsibility for integrating the Puritan division, which CKI had acquired in 1984, in addition to directing the financial, operations, distribution and human resources activities under the umbrella of CKI.
“He was a wonderful person,” said Barry Schwartz, cofounder and former chairman of Calvin Klein Inc., on Friday. “He was clearly brilliant. When Bob Suslow joined, Calvin and I brought Joel in. Joel had had a major role at Kohl’s. Basically his role with us was strategic planning. He was a really great thinker. He was very smart, and just a great person and great to be around. He was always the smartest person in the room.”
Andrew Rosen, who worked closely with Newman at Calvin Klein from 1985 to 1989, added, “Joel was a wonderful guy. He was not a flashy guy. He was understated and super smart, super strategic and honorable. His word was important. He did what he said he would do. He was a straight shooter.”
After CKI, Newman went to Leslie Fay Co. in 1987 as chief operating officer and vice chairman, responsible for planning, operations, human resources and finance. He also headed up the international division and lived in London for a year.
In 1993, Newman joined Tommy Hilfiger, where he worked nearly 12 years. He began as executive vice president — finance and chief administrative officer and was tapped as chief financial officer and administrative officer in 2000.
“Joel was a dear friend and an integral part of the brand’s success in the 1990s and 2000s. As a seasoned executive, he always played fair and was sincere in all his actions. He gave his all in everything he did. I’ll cherish our great memories — he will be missed,” said Tommy Hilfiger on Friday.
Joel Horowitz, former chief executive officer of Hilfiger, added, “Joel was our ‘rock.’ He kept us on track throughout our meteoric growth. His experience and demeanor made him invaluable.”
Newman’s last industry job was at Kenneth Cole Productions, which he joined in 2006 as chief operating officer and stayed a year and a half, overseeing finance, operations, human resources and legal.
Dan Newman said his father’s heart was always in community, and he was involved with several charities, namely the Ronald McDonald House, where he was interim president and chief executive officer, and KidsPeace, where he served on the board. “He was always very passionate about children’s causes,” said Dan Newman.
“He loved sports and watching the New York Giants, although he got too aggravated doing it. He was a huge history buff and a voracious reader, and always prioritized spending time with his family,” said Dan Newman.
Joel and Sheila Newman raised their family in Douglaston, Queens, and later moved to Great Neck when their children were middle and elementary school students.
When asked which of his various professional roles he spoke about the most, his son said, “It’s probably less about any one of the companies or the experiences. He took great pride in the relationships that he built and the people that he mentored over the years. He was super proud of that and drew tremendous energy from it. He kept in touch with people.”
In addition to his wife Sheila and son Dan, he is survived by a daughter, Stephanie, and her husband, Michael Levine, Dan’s wife Amy, and five grandchildren — Jacob, Zach and Gabe Newman, and Peyton and Arianne Levine.