Ronald Frasch, B.S.’70

Career Reinvention

By Carol Olechowski
Ronald Frasch
 Sari Goodfriend

In the “competitive, complex” field of fashion merchandising, Ron Frasch enjoyed handling the challenges that came his way. The Glens Falls, N.Y., native, who had discovered a passion for retail while studying business at the University at Albany, worked at Bloomingdale’s after earning his degree. Over the next 40 years, he forged an illustrious career, much of it with Saks Fifth Avenue, where, as president, Frasch held the principal position chief merchant and head of stores. He also served as chief executive officer and president of Bergdorf Goodman, and, for a decade, as senior vice president at Neiman Marcus. “It was different every day, working with department stores and dealing with either opportunities or crises,” Frasch notes.   
In 2014, his career took a new direction when he joined the Boston-based private-equity firm Castanea Partners, founded by Robert Smith and Brian Knez, previous owners of Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. “I’ve known Rob and Brian well for many years. They are quality people, and they have a great values system. Castanea Partners’ culture is reflected in the company’s success over the years,” observes Frasch, operating partner in the firm’s New York City office.

Frasch’s portfolio companies include Mackenzie-Childs, “a wonderful home-decorating company with a very loyal customer base”; Proenza Schouler,  a 16-year-old women’s apparel and accessories firm started by Parsons School of Design graduates Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez;  and Ippolita, a designer-jewelry line. 

His current role with Castanea Partners has afforded Frasch “more freedom, which is nice. Sometimes, in the corporate world, you don’t realize what’s outside the corporate walls.”

That freedom allows him to lend his expertise to the fashion industry in other ways. Several times a year, Frasch travels to London and Colorado to attend board meetings for Burberry and Crocs, Inc., respectively. He also does some consulting: “I try to look at what new real-estate developments and department stores are doing and see what they can do better. I’m still very close to lots of brands in the industry. I’m there for them if they need anything.”

In addition, Frasch is a mentor for young entrepreneurs through the Harvard Business School Accelerated Program, which attracts top talent to its graduate school. Adds Frasch: “The other mentoring program I work with is Trendseeder, which is based in New York and supports entrepreneurs in exchange for equity at some point in time. It’s nice to give back.” 

Frasch is also giving back to UAlbany, where he transferred after spending two years studying journalism at Ohio University. (“I wasn’t a very good journalist,” he admits.) Last April, Frasch visited campus to talk with business students and with members of the Fashion Association of Collegiate Entrepreneurs (FACE). He also keeps up with the group through Facebook. 

Though Frasch never played lacrosse, his 13-year-old son does and “loves the sport.” The two visited UAlbany to see a game, and the seeds for the Frasch Lacrosse Scholarship were planted when development officer Mary Johnson explained how Frasch could establish an endowment. 

“We’re still working out the details,” says Frasch, “but I’m looking forward to meeting the first student to receive the scholarship.”