Bonnie Brooks, CM, retailer, department store executive (born 19 May 1953 in Windsor, ON). Brooks earned her MBA from the Ivey Business School at Western University and also holds two honorary doctoral degrees. She is best known for her work modernizing retail department stores, including Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford, Canada’s Holt Renfrew and Hudson’s Bay, where she was the first woman to be appointed president and CEO. Brooks was later appointed as the first woman vice-chairman of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Early Life and Career
Brooks was born in 1953 in Windsor, Ontario, and raised in a middle-class home in London, Ontario. Her father, Gordon, was a general manager at pulp-and-paper company Domtar and her mother, Rose, worked in banking. The youngest of three sisters, Brooks credits her interest in style to her mother, a talented seamstress who made clothing for herself and her daughters and wore pieces imported from Europe, despite never having been overseas.
Brooks studied sociology and psychology at York University before taking classes in arts and literature at both Western University and the University of Toronto. (Brooks earned an MBA from the Ivey Business School at Western University in 2008.)
Brooks was hired as a copywriter and stylist at Fairweather, a women’s clothing store owned by retail conglomerate Dylex Limited. By the time she left the company in 1980, she had become director of advertising and promotion.
In 1980, Brooks moved to a job with Holt Renfrew, a Canadian luxury department-store chain, where she remained for the next 11 years in various roles. Brooks became executive vice–president, general merchandise manager in 1987 and is credited with revitalizing Holt Renfrew from a stodgy retailer into a fashion destination, bringing luxury European brands such as Prada, Louis Vuitton and Gucci to Canada.
In 1990, Brooks was hired by Dylex as president of its Town and Country chain and tasked with reinvigorating the brand. Instead, an economic recession that had a large impact on clothing retailers caused Dylex to shutter the company in 1991 and Brooks to lose her job.
After working as a president of an advertising agency for a short time, in 1993 Brooks was named editor-in-chief at Flare, a Canadian fashion magazine published by Rogers Communications. Brooks remained in the role until 1996, when she returned to Holt Renfrew as senior vice-president.
In 1997, Brooks relocated to Hong Kong to work with Lane Crawford, a luxury department store. Brooks was hired as senior vice-president of Lane Crawford and became president of the Lane Crawford Joyce Group in 2003. As president, she oversaw many of the world’s leading brands in over 500 locations in nine Asian countries,securing rights to Stella McCartney, Chloé, Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo.
Hudson’s Bay Company
In August 2008, Brooks became the first woman appointed president and CEO at the Bay. She was recruited by American real estate mogul Richard Baker, whose firm NRDC Equity Partners had acquired the Hudson’s Bay Company for $1.1 billion just a few months prior. Revenues at the retailer had been in decline for four years and profits were dwindling. Brooks is credited with leading a turnaround in HBC’s financial performance, one that allowed the company to go public in 2012.
Once on the verge of becoming a down-market department store, Brooks revamped the Hudson’s Bay into an upscale, trendy retailer that held high-profile appearances by celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Simpson and Kim Kardashian. Brooks did away with underperforming brands, incorporating more desirable lines such as Topshop and Topman. The UK-based high-street chain opened stores in select Hudson’s Bay locations in 2011.
Brooks also brought a personal touch to the Hudson’s Bay brand, narrating the company’s radio commercials, which made her voice and persona synonymous with the retailer.
During Brooks’s time at Hudson’s Bay, the brand launched the Hudson’s Bay Company Collection, a line of merchandise featuring the colourful stripes of the company’s iconic point blanket. The motif has adorned everything from dog apparel to housewares and canoes and has been used in collaborations with designers like Canadian fashion label Smythe.
In 2005, the Hudson’s Bay Company became a national partner of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, outfitting the Canadian team and operating the most successful Olympic superstore and retail program in Winter Olympic history.
In 2009, Brooks commissioned a renovation of the St. Regis Room at the Hudson’s Bay’s downtown Toronto flagship, expanding it to 22,000 square feet. She hired internationally renowned Canadian design firm Yabu Pushelberg to revamp the space and renamed it The Room. It quickly became a hub for the Toronto fashion community, hosting appearances from international designers and fashion personalities, including Erdem Moralioglu, Oscar de la Renta, Nicola Formichetti, Anna Dello Russo and Thakoon Panichgul. Further expanding Hudon’s Bay’s fashion presence, Brooks partnered with the Royal Ontario Museum for the Bay’s sponsorship of the Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913–2008 exhibition in fall 2009. She also opened a second The Room location, at Hudson Bay’s downtown Vancouver store.
In 2012, the Hudson’s Bay Company acquired US department store Lord & Taylor, and Brooks was appointed president of the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 2013, HBC acquired luxury American department store Saks Fifth Avenue for US$2.9 billion and Brooks was promoted to vice-chair of the Hudson’s Bay Company. HBC opened the first Canadian Saks Fifth Avenue location in 2016, inside the Hudson’s Bay’s flagship Toronto location.
In July 2016, Brooks announced her retirement from her role as vice-chair of HBC, effective as of 31 December 2016.
Association and Board Memberships
Brooks serves on the boards of numerous organizations, including Rogers Communications, RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust, Chico’s FAS and Abercrombie & Fitch. She was chair of the board of trustees at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto from 2013 to 2016 and previously sat on the board of Canadian book retailer Indigo (2009–11) and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (2013–17). In July 2016, she was named chair of the LCBO board, a position from which she resigned in April 2017.
Honours and Awards
Brooks holds honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Guelph and Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. In 2011, she was recognized by the Women’s Executive Network as one of Canada’s 100 most powerful women. In 2013 and 2014, Brooks was named as one of the 50 most powerful business people in Canada by Canadian Business magazine.
In 2013, she was an honouree of the Parsons School of Design at the New School in New York City and also received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for philanthropy, awarded by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In 2014, Brooks became the first woman to receive the Ivey Business Leader Award from Western University’s business school and was inducted into Canada’s Marketing Hall of Legends by the American Marketing Association.
Brooks has been recognized as one of the top 25 retailers worldwide by Monocle magazine and was named by Fast Company magazine as one of the world’s 100 most creative people in business.
In December 2016, Brooks was named a Member of the Order of Canada and on 30 May 2017, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Retail Council of Canada.
In 1977, Brooks married Denton Young, vocalist of the Juno Award-winning rock band Zon. They were married for six years. Brooks is an avid art collector with a collection that includes works by photographer Barbara Astman and artist Charles Pachter. Brooks has a home in Toronto.