December 15, 2005
By BARBARA TRAVERS
Arthur Rubinfeld is the founder and CEO of Airvision, a Seattle-based brand positioning and strategic growth company. As executive vice president at Starbucks, he was the chief architect behind the company's phenomenal growth and rapid expansion. In his best-selling book, "Built for Growth Expanding Your Business Around the Corner or Across the Globe," Rubinfeld shares his knowledge about envisioning, launching, expanding and sustaining winning retail brands with clients that include Washington Mutual, Gateway, Adidas, Oakley and Omaha Steaks. Over 30,000 copies of his book have been distributed. For more information visit www.builtforgrowth.com.
What brought you to Seattle?
In 1991, I was living in Northern California, managing a retail real estate brokerage firm that was commissioned to represent Starbucks Coffee in its rollout of new stores in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. The opportunity came up at Starbucks in Seattle to lead retail real estate, construction, design and property management. My proposal to Starbucks was that all these aspects fall under one umbrella.
In 1992, I joined Starbucks, in Seattle, as senior vice president of store development and we immediately accelerated the expansion of this group. There were about 100 Starbucks stores then. Ten years and 4,000 stores later, we had grown the store development group to 550 people.
What was the genesis for Airvision?
The company was born out of a decision I made that it was time for me to do other things to feed my soul. In 2002, I launched Airvision, a retail "ideation, creation and execution" company, assembling a team with years of experience working with some of the world's most recognized brands: Apple, Nestle, Mattel, Gateway and, of course, Starbucks.
At Airvision we optimize a brand's potential and execute growth strategies for the company's expansion. While we work with some of the biggest and best, I love entrepreneurs and get immense enjoyment out of helping people follow their dreams and support them to develop their success. A.I.R are my initials and I wanted the word "vision" in the company's name. Hence Airvision was born.
What working experience has been invaluable in your career?
There's many. A job that made a big mark and where I first learned merchandising was as a teenager at Levy's Greeting Card shop on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, N.Y. The "card store." Remember the "card store?" I did everything in the store from stocking inventory to customer interaction. I learned that every customer is unique and offers a new experience with a new dialogue. It was important to be honest with the customer when interacting. I learned how to pay attention to the aura of the customer and the situation and react accordingly. Not everyone should be in retail. There was a reason Mr. Levy was behind the cash register and Mrs. Levy was on the floor.
My love of building design and function led me to study architecture. I was the project architect and construction manager for the Palace Hotel in Manhattan, under Harry and Leona Helmsley. All of my experiences have led me back to bricks-and-mortar retailing, which is what fuels my passion.
If you had to choose your next career today, what would it be?
I'd want to be a point guard in the NBA.
What are traits of companies you admire?
Companies that believe in innovation and are led by people who are not afraid to take chances and be the leaders in their respective categories. Companies with vision, optimism and imagination. Our clients have a common thread. They are creative and are looking to not only change their companies, but the world.
If you ran into Arthur Rubinfeld at age 22, what two pieces of advice would you give him?
The same advice I give to my son, who's getting close to 21. Be true to yourself and try to have some fun on this journey. And a third one: Follow your heart and do your best to make your dreams a reality. Too many people let the course of their lives become their reality and do not end up following their dreams.
What are you reading?
"Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy," by Matthew R. Simmons.
What do you do for fun on this journey?
Push the envelope at work and play rock ‘n roll on my electric guitar whenever I can.
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