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How Saks and Lord & Taylor’s CEO Dealt With a Massive Data Hack a Month Into Her Job

May 15, 2018, 4:00 AM UTC

Sometimes there’s nothing like a little trial by fire.

After 25 years at CVS, Helena Foulkes was named CEO of Hudson’s Bay Corporation, the parent company of retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor, in February. But she didn’t exactly get a chance to ease into the new role: A month into her tenure, hackers claimed they had gained access to five million credit and debit card numbers of HBC’s customers.

“It brought our team together,” Foulkes said in her first interview as HBC CEO at a Fortune Most Powerful Women dinner in New York City Monday evening. She held regular calls with her company’s top leadership—including on Easter Sunday—to discuss next steps. The strategy appears to have paid off, as she says the FBI later told her that HBC had “the fastest response to a breach they’ve ever experienced.”

Foulkes’ first steps to contain the hack? “Sharing as much as we could say with confidence” with in-store associates, who are the ones communicating with shoppers, she said. The company also provided customers with a hotline and free credit monitoring support.

In short, the company did “all the things we could do to say we’re here for you and we’ll have your back if something happens to you,” said Foulkes.

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The response was in line with the five principles the CEO said she is implementing at the company: 1) Think like a customer 2) Have an action orientation 3) Focus on game-changing initiatives 4) Be inclusive 5) Measure results.

Though the CVS veteran is a newcomer at the company, Foulkes said her executive team is open to change: “They’ve really embraced me and allowed me to move fast.” That attitude comes, in part, because “the company knows it needs a turnaround.”

Like other department store operators, HBC has seen sales decline as shoppers’ spending habits change. Yet the company has taken some radical steps to improve the business—including launching a Lord & Taylor store on Walmart.com and partnering with coworking company WeWork. Foulkes says those experiments helped convince her to take the job as chief.

“I like radical thinking,” she told the Fortune audience. “That signaled that this is a company that’s willing to think differently.”