News & Politics

Business Hall of Fame 2013: Mark Ordan

Retailing his way to the top

Illustration by Forrest Greene.

The way Mark Ordan got his first job out of college says a lot. At 20, with a philosophy degree from Vassar, he talked himself into the position of director of operations for the Harvey Electronics chain in New York. “I’d worked there, and I told the president nobody knew every aspect of the company better than I did,” Ordan recalls. After leaving to earn an MBA at Harvard, Ordan went on to Goldman Sachs. But he missed retail. Shopping for opportunities, he noticed that an upscale supermarket chain in the Boston area, Bread & Circus, had customers packing the aisles. In 1991, he and a partner raised $14 million and opened Fresh Fields in Rockville and three other locations. The company grew to 25 stores before it was sold to Whole Foods for $150 million in 1996.

Ordan started a health-care brokerage, later selling it and buying the local chain Sutton Place Gourmet. He then sold that and became CEO of the Mills Corporation, a shopping-center company in dire straits. Fifteen months later, Mills had regrouped enough to attract a buyer and Ordan was out of a job again. In 2008, he signed on to head another struggling company, Sunrise Senior Living. Sunrise was acquired by Health Care REIT earlier this year.

How has Ordan succeeded in such diverse fields? He asks a lot of questions and “sees who is pulling in the right direction and who is pushing in the wrong direction,” regardless of the level of position the person holds.

He concentrates his charitable efforts where he believes he can make a difference: “I don’t mind asking people for money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. It’s a curable disease, and we can change people’s lives.”

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