Karen Goracke gives insider view of Berkshire Hathaway

By KELLY BARTLING
UNK Communications

KEARNEY – When Karen Goracke was approached to be University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Executive in Residence this fall she was at first surprised, then ecstatic.

“I could not be more proud. I hate to brag, but if I could take out a billboard, I would,” she said. “This really just means so much to me. I absolutely adored my time there at UNK, and I still have the very best friends from my experience in Kearney.”

Giving back, by sharing her knowledge and ideas with students, is something the Borsheims CEO has been waiting to do. The College of Business and Technology Executive in Residence will give her that chance: To talk to students, visit with faculty and play a mentor role to anyone who wants to learn more about retail, Berkshire Hathaway, working for Warren Buffett, merchandising, accounting, sales – her list of what she wants to talk about is long.

“This really just means so much to me. I absolutely adored my time there at UNK, and I still have the very best friends from my experience in Kearney," says Karen Goracke. The Borsheims CEO and Kearney State College graduate is speaking at UNK Oct. 11, when she will share her experiences working with Warren Buffett in a talk “Ringside Seat: An Insider’s View of Retail and Berkshire Hathaway.”

“This really just means so much to me. I absolutely adored my time there at UNK, and I still have the very best friends from my experience in Kearney,” says Karen Goracke. The Borsheims CEO and Kearney State College graduate is speaking at UNK Oct. 11, when she will share her experiences working with Warren Buffett in a talk “Ringside Seat: An Insider’s View of Retail and Berkshire Hathaway.”

Goracke will speak at 11 a.m. Oct. 1 in the Ponderosa Room at the Nebraskan Student Union. Her talk –  “Ringside Seat: An Insider’s View of Retail and Berkshire Hathaway” – is free and open to the public.

Growing up in Omaha Goracke headed to then-Kearney State in 1984 and became active in Gamma Phi Beta sorority, majoring in business administration and organizational communication. During college she worked part-time at McDermott and Miller, which gave her a “great basis” – that combination of accounting and business, along with her education, was the winning combination to get her started in retail. Borsheims, the famed fine jewelry retailer in Omaha, was her first – eventually only – job.

“It was a super-entry-level job, then when Berkshire Hathaway bought it, they were looking for someone to handle their inventory control systems. I volunteered. I worked on the conversions they needed, then went into buying, then merchandise.”

Goracke went from a gift sales associate, to inventory supervisor, then to watch buyer. In 1998 she then took six years off to be at home with her family, but then CEO Susan Jacques convinced her to return as the ladies jewelry buyer in 2004. Next came a promotion to director of merchandise, then to CEO in 2013.

“Yes, Warren Buffett is my boss and people are quite curious about him. I don’t talk to him every day of course, it’s just a few times a year. And yes it’s pretty awesome to travel with Warren Buffett.”

Goracke believes the keys to her success are work ethic and diversifying her skills. Trying new things and being the one to step up and say ‘I can do that’ helped her prove herself and get more responsibility. Eventually being responsible for buying for the entire store and overseeing four full-time buyers was thrilling.

“I was pretty vocal about volunteering for projects at work, that’s what really set my direction was when Berkshire Hathaway bought it, there were no accounting systems, and there was me coming in and volunteering and the CFO saying ‘You figure it out.’ That was really the turning point here for me. That’s what got me where I am today, being vocal, getting myself noticed, all of those things. I attribute that to the atmosphere in Kearney and having a great social network as well.

“Living in a sorority with all those girls you had to adapt to things,” she says, laughing. “I’ve never been shy but my experiences at Kearney made me very confident and a go-getter. I often go back to those lessons I learned in Kearney, the academic and work experience. That has done it.”

Her husband Bruce (a Phi Delt, KSC 1983-87) and she have three boys. The youngest is going into eighth grade; the oldest, a junior in college, and the middle, starting college in the fall. None have yet come to UNK.

At Borsheims she has more than 200 employees and 25,000 square feet of show room, with an entire facility of 62,500 square feet. Imagine keeping all of it fresh, filled and staffed. Briefly, there were two locations, with a Boutique opening in 2013. The retailer recently closed and reintegrated its Nebraska Crossing location back to its original location at Regency. Retail, and outlets, can be difficult. Goracke said trying the outlet location at Gretna was not a mistake, it was an experiment.

“I can’t say Nebraska Crossing was disappointing. We went into it with our eyes wide open… a short-term lease to try it out. For a retailer like us who’s already discounting, it seemed like a lot of work for not a lot of return. We were 20 minutes away from our main location and always shuffling people back and forth. It was hard for us being so small. I’m not a super risk taker but you have to try some things. If you’re not failing at something you’re not working hard enough.”

Goracke wants to talk as much as possible with students during her executive visit, sharing in particular her views on retail and competing with the “Amazon experience” where customers have all the options they would ever want at their fingertips, but little opportunity to touch and talk about their purchases.

What’s Goracke’s future plans? Retiring anytime soon?

“Oh my no. We have an employee here who works full time and she’s 93. She’s really a go-getter. I can’t see myself here at 93 but maybe somewhere between 60 and 93.

“I’ve thought about teaching, finding some way to give back. I’ve got a lot left in me and I’m glad to be here and look at how I can use all of what I have to give back.”

Who: Karen Goracke, Borsheims CEO and UNK Executive in Residence
What: “Ringside Seat: An Insider’s View of Retail and Berkshire Hathaway”
When: 11 a.m., Oct. 1
Where: UNK Nebraskan Student Union, Ponderosa Room
Other: Goracke’s talk is free and open to the public

UNK Class Appearances

Goracke is speaking to a number of classes during her visit to campus. The lineup of presentations and classes:
 
Wednesday, Sept. 30
8 to 9 a.m. – Internships, Career Opportunities (West Center 120E)
9:05 to 9:55 a.m. – Principles of Finance (West Center 103N)
10:10 to 11 a.m. – Supply Chain Management portal, Principles of Supply Chain Management (Ockinga)

Thursday, Oct. 1
8 to 9:15 a.m. – Professional Selling, Principles of Management, Principles of Marketing, Advertising Management (Ponderosa)
9:30 to 10:45 a.m. – Human Resource Management, Ethics, Logistics/Transportation, Consumer Behavior (Ponderosa)
11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. – Karen Goracke, Borsheims CEO, “Ringside Seat: An Insider’s View of Retail and Berkshire Hathaway” (Ponderosa)
2 to 3:15 p.m. – Commercial Law, Interior Design Studio, Beginning Technology for Interior Design (Student Union 310)

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