Counter Intelligence

A 1954 photo of Robinson’s Beverly Hills, showing the valet carport and the lower level garden.

Fall 1986
Beverly Hills, CA

I grew up driving past (and occasionally going into) Robinson’s Department Store in Beverly Hills. My parents had a charge plate there, and though we found ourselves more often at Bullock’s in Westwood or the Broadway in Century City for our department store shopping, it seemed like when we needed a slightly nicer gift for someone, we would as often as not wind up at the somewhat ritzier Robinsons.

Finding myself with a few months to spare between graduating from UC Davis and starting Thunderbird and only only partially occupied with taking some extension classes at UCLA, I got a job at Robinson’s Beverly Hills as seasonal help, working initially in the gifts department, and later in candy.

After a few weeks, the GM decided to set up a “flying squad” of seasonal associates who could be moved from one department to another to handle rushes. She asked me to be the supervisor and, after a month, I was overseeing my own team and was welcomed into management meetings.

I left to move to Arizona for Thunderbird right before New Year, but not before the GM, Patti, offered me a job and a slot in their management training program. It wasn’t in the cards, but it was an incredible send-off. It may have been the eighties, but jobs weren’t leaping off of trees, and having looked two such gift-horses in the mouth in three months I felt like I was pushing my luck a bit.

But off to Thunderbird I went, to pursue my career in China, rather than in retail.

In an interesting twist, the old William Pereira and Charles Luckman icon fell in 2014 to a wrecking ball swung by Wang Jianlin* of Dalian Wanda, as a part of a multiuse redevelopment project. I was sad to see the old gal fall, but I took it as proof of my theory that in order to do business in/with China now, you don’t even need to get on a plane: China is coming to you.


* I have no particular affection for Wang. Once you get past a sophisticated exterior he is the quintessential Chinese robber-baron. In another time, he would have been a warlord.