Near the end of the long, surprisingly stark corridor of the Neiman Marcus executive hallway sits the office of Paula Brady, public relations manager for the luxury retail giant’s Northbrook store. The door is half open, and there are stacks of papers high as the eye can see. Runway snapshots are taped to the framed artwork. Personal notes made out to Brady from some of the world’s top designers casually hang from the tack board. This is a happy office, teeming with decades of memories, experience, and unsurpassed competence.
Behind its desk is Brady. Her pert blonde bob and warm smile is a fixture in this place. In all truth, catching Brady in her office is a rare moment. She is usually on the marble sales floor directing caterers where to set up for the store’s next big event.
Brady’s you-don’t-ask-you-don’t-get approach to business has made her a living legend. Brady is set to retire this month, bringing an end to what she refers to as a “32-year love affair.”
But whomever slips into her size eight Pradas next better be ready: Brady is what legends are made of.
The path to one of the North Shore’s most coveted positions wasn’t without its challenges. Growing up in Sauganash, Brady began her college career at Marymount University, eventually transferring and graduating from Marquette University’s School of Business Administration. “I was one of only 12 females in the business school,” laughs Brady, grateful that times are now so different.
Her first job out of college in the mid-1970s was as a tech company copy machine saleswoman. “My job was to go around the country and show companies ‘Look! Even a woman can take apart a copy machine!’” Brady rolls her eyes. “That did not last long.”
After living in Florida for some time, handling the buying for a small golf shop at a private club, Brady separated from her then husband and moved back to the North Shore. Caring for her two young sons, Stephen and JD, Brady set out looking for work. Brady had an acquaintance arrange a lunch with Neiman Marcus Northbrook’s store manager in the hopes that he might help her with a job interview for which she was prepping. The store manager loved their meeting. If the other job didn’t work out, he said, he wanted Brady to work for him at Neiman Marcus. The other job didn’t work out.
The years between that fateful lunch and today were filled with what Brady calls “quite the ride.” Brady says she grew up at Neiman Marcus, raising two kids while trying to make herself a name. “You just have to do the best you can,” she says when asked about the struggles of being a single, working mother. “My sons were forced to be independent. It served them well,” Brady says, beaming a smile always reserved for talk of her boys.
The connection between Brady and Neiman Marcus really is more of a relationship. “I think most people would be surprised with how compassionate a large company like Neiman Marcus can be,” says Brady. “When my parents passed away suddenly within a week of each other in 1994, Neiman Marcus insisted that I take a paid leave for a month.” Her parents served as her support system for her kids, so the time off was so appreciated. “And then, four years later, when my youngest son was diagnosed with cancer, Neiman Marcus came to my rescue again. I will never forget it.”
Brady has seen many corporate changes through the years, but points out that Neiman Marcus’ latest hyper-local initiative to support youth arts education has made her very proud. “With all the cuts in school art programs, I’m delighted to have partnered with local charities to ensure that kids don’t miss out on the arts experience.” Fashion is art, after all.
Brady, a mentor to countless PR assistants through the years, has two mentors herself. Sandy Marple, vice-president of corporate special events at Neiman Marcus’ Dallas headquarters, instilled in Brady the importance of protecting the company’s brand. Another is Dorothy Andries, former trend editor of a group of local newspapers, who taught Brady how to manage the press.
Brady has had one special person with whom to share all these amusing moments — her husband, Peter. Affectionately referred to as “St. Peter of Glenview,” Brady recognizes that it’s Peter who has kept both of her feet firmly planted on the ground. “Here I am surrounded by the most luxurious items in the world, and it would be so easy to forget what its all about. Peter reminds me every day.”
Brady will have more time with Peter, her sons, and her stepdaughters, Fiona and Orla, starting very soon. Brady may be the reigning queen of Neiman Marcus PR, but she’s “GiGi” to her nine grandchildren. Brady says she plans to make “the rest of my years, the best of my years.” But the real motto she’ll be subscribing to from now on? “If Mommy says ‘no’, go ask GiGi.”
Stacy Flannery was Brady’s assistant from 2003-2007, prior to becoming Sheridan Road’s events editor for over nine years. Brady gave Flannery many gifts of professional guidance, but no gift greater than introducing her to her husband, Bob, with whom she shares two daughters.