Retail expert focuses on people throughout varied career
In 1995, Steven Kirn decided to write a personal mission statement, a sentence to define who he was and his purpose in life.
He wrote: “to help people learn and grow, with lightness of spirit.”
It’s a philosophy that Kirn, now the executive director of the David F. Miller Retailing Education and Research Center, has followed throughout his career.
“I’ve always been interested in how people develop,” he said. “And in all of my jobs, I think that’s been my focus.”
Kirn began his career in psychology, graduating from UF with a master’s degree in clinical psychology in 1971 and a doctorate in the same subject in 1974. While at UF, he met his wife, Katrine, who also earned her doctorate in clinical psychology at UF. He worked in the mental health field for six years, first as an intern and later at community mental health centers and in a private practice in Kentucky that he owned with his wife. He also was a full-time faculty member at Bellarmine University in Louisville for six years.
Kirn said he provided therapy for people suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, as well as helped “people in okay situations get to great situations.”
But after six years in teaching and private practice, Kirn began career moves that ultimately landed him in the world of retail.
“At first the two fields don’t seem related,” he said, “but at their cores, both are about helping people develop to their full potential.”
He spent a decade working in human resources and consulting for various retail firms, including BATUS Inc., parent company of Saks Fifth Avenue, Marshall Field’s and Kohl’s. He later transitioned to a position at Sears. For nine years, Kirn served as the vice president for learning and development, training employees, recruiting interns and management trainees, and planning executive succession.
Now, at UF, he maintains his mission to help people grow, as he helps students plan their careers and develop their interests before they graduate.
The Miller Retailing Education and Research Center organizes opportunities for students interested in any aspect of retail. The center brings in professionals to talk to students, coordinates undergraduate internships and allows students to network with each other.
With retail making up 25 percent of American jobs, there are positions in store management, real estate, communications, technology and human resources, among other fields, Kirn said.
“When people hear ‘working in retail,’ a lot of them think only of cashiers or Walmart greeters,” he said. “But the truth is that retail offers a lot more opportunities.”
But what he loves most, he said, is following his mission statement and helping students “learn and grow.”
“After all of my experience,” he said, “it would be a shame to not share it and pass it on.”