Summer 2016
Specialty Retail 2016 Hall of Fame

Outstanding Retailer of the Year

Lori Lesko
VP Real Estate Calendar Holdings

Lori Lesko, VP Real Estate at Calendar Holdings, has a passion for the specialty retail industry and her integrity and honesty have been the defining characteristics of her long and illustrious career.

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When it’s right, it’s right.

Lori Lesko was just in high school when she knew she wanted a career in retail. As luck would have it, a local school, Youngstown University in Ohio, was the only one in the country offering a degree with a focus on shopping center management. While at college, she found an internship with DeBartolo Holdings (later merged with Simon) in the permanent leasing department and discovered she loved every detail about shopping centers. Upon graduation, Lesko attended a RECon conference and it confirmed for her: She had found her calling.

Both sides of the fence

Since then, Lesko has had a chance to work under the wings of industry greats such as the late Jim Allen at Simon and others at DeBartolo who showed her the ropes. Lesko was a quick learner and over the years, has seen both sides of the fence: leasing and retail.

This vantage point has had its advantages as Lesko now sits on the retail side as VP Real Estate at Calendar Holdings, negotiating national deals with big players. “I totally understand, even to this day, the whole developer angle, how it flows, and what their goals are, and the pressures that they’re under,” Lesko says, “I definitely have empathy for that, and understand it. I tell our Go! team, when I’m sitting at the table with the developers I know what we want, but I also know that they want, and that just helps create more of the win-win that I really feel leasing should be about. I look at everybody that I deal with as my friend.”

A people person

Lesko says her large Lebanese family has taught her to respect people and roots and has instilled a strong work ethic.

“Being a people person, and being able to see how individuals sitting at a table can create something that then translates into a community, that translates into sales and jobs for people, and just knowing that you can be a part of that, it is heartening,” Lesko says. She gets her satisfaction knowing that her “little bit of deal-making” can translate to the shopping center industry, and in knowing that she’s part of such a huge endeavor.

Calendar Holdings’ outlets such as GO! Games and Toys and Calendar Club have been fixtures on the specialty retail scene. Lesko credits their longevity to excellent management and teamwork and the ability to stay nimble. “We take advantage of the opportunities when they arise, whether they’re inline or kiosk, and we’re able to maximize that, and able to quickly turn things around,” Lesko explains, adding that often they’re executing holiday season deals even in November.

Calendar Holdings has grown the year-round business substantially under Lesko’s watch from 20 or 25 to a record 104 stores this year. It takes two very different models to run a pop-up versus a year-round store and Lesko says Calendar Holdings’ team deserves credit that they operate both so successfully. The pop-up model has allowed the team to be even more nimble allow them to quickly react to market forces.

Lesko says that integrity and honesty have helped her and the team to be successful. “I pride myself on the reputation that we have within the industry and I stress that to my team. Anybody that I bring on, I emphasize that we’re representing the company, and the only way to do that is being honest, and being a fair person, and somebody that people want to deal with, and that they want to work with.”

“Every day’s different, there’s always different challenges. It’s so fast-paced, and that builds the adrenaline, and keeps it challenging and exciting,” Lesko says about specialty retail, “I tell people that I hire all the time, you’re either going to love this part of the business or you’re not. You’re either made
for it or you’re not.”

From all indications, Lesko is someone who has found just the right fit. She is, in her words, “made for it.”

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Poornima Apte

Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor specializing in retail and the book publishing industry. Learn more at wordcumulus.wordpress.com.
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