Remembering Jack Buley

On March 22, 2011, Canadian retailer tb!s The Bargain Shop named top American retail executive Beryl “Jack” Buley as its new president and CEO.  A week later, on March 29, I sat down with Buley to discuss his new position for our then-upcoming June/July issue.  Eight weeks later, he was dead.

Why, after almost five months, am I now writing about this, you ask? Because I just found out. The news of Buley’s tragic death wasn’t publicized. In fact, our June/July 2011 feature story – on page 20 – came out as planned, and we had no idea that he had already been laid to rest weeks before the publication was mailed.

It somehow seems remiss not to relate a little of what I know about Jack Buley. He was an American retail star, having served 16 years with Kohl’s Corp. – most recently as executive VP of stores – and then as division president of Dollar General Corp. before being lured north to realize his CEO dream at The Bargain Shop in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

The 238-store Canadian discounter was lucky to get Buley.  They felt sure that he would do for them what he did for Dollar General, which was to elevate the retail experience. He likely would have, if he had had the chance. On May 22, 2011, on his 50th birthday, he died in a car accident in Franklin, Tenn., leaving behind his wife Cathy and three children.

He never was able to effect long-term change at The Bargain Shop. But I feel certain that his presence lingers on. Even after just one hour with him, I realized him to be one of those larger-than-life guys who would light up a room and take a bull by the horns. He talked to me about growing up in Oklahoma, about working for his dad, about his participative style of leadership. He said he would never ask someone to do something in a store that he hadn’t done himself. 

Retail needs more leaders like Buley. And now there is one less. For that, I am truly saddened.