By day, Rachel Kraus manages the experience 400,000 people have when they walk through the revitalized World Trade Center. By night, she’s inspiring Jewish souls — and nothing is small about the impact she’s making.
hink about the last time you went to a shopping mall. What did you see? Rows of stores, of course, maybe a fountain, a few escalators, some seating areas. For Rachel Kraus, however, Vice President of Marketing at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, that’s not even a fraction of it.
“There is nothing — nothing — accidental about a mall,” Kraus says. “It’s meant to look seamless, but it’s like a duck on the water. It seems calm, but its feet are churning underneath. A company like the one I work for fuels the whole operation. It’s the brainpower.”
In her role, she manages and oversees all the marketing for the World Trade Center retail development, a job she’s held for six years. “When I started, the World Trade Center retail was just a blueprint,” she shares. Now, the sixteen-acre campus includes eight acres of completely “holy space” that are reserved for the 9/11 museum and memorial, in addition to four towers (one that is still yet to be built); the Oculus, which is the site’s transportation hub; and the mall itself, which includes multiple levels of retail.
With all that going on, it’s no surprise that no two days are the same. At any given time, Kraus is overseeing government and public affairs, public relations and media, which includes social, digital, creative and brand strategy, and events. “We’re responsible for everything the customer experiences,” she explains. “It could be a major artist doing a pop-up concert or a class of fourth-grade students coming dressed up as Abraham Lincoln to recite the Gettysburg Address and everything in between.” She also manages all of the retail for the mall, which includes more than 80 stores, each with their own individual marketing plans, objectives, and sales goals.
Sounds like enough to keep her pretty busy, but if you know Rachel Kraus, you know that’s just the start. She also serves as the director of community education at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side, alongside her husband, Rabbi Daniel Kraus.“ There are about 1,200 families, so it’s a massive shul,” she says.
In her role, she teaches weekly and monthly women’s classes on her own to about 30 to 50 women at a time, and also co-teaches classes with her husband. At the time of this interview, they were in the middle of a five-class series on Jewish history. She also teaches a mother/daughter bas mitzvah class and does one-on-one lessons with kallos. Every Shabbos morning, she co-leads the beginner’s service at the shul, which helps those who haven’t had a formal Jewish education become acquainted with the meaning and mechanics of prayer and develop a deeper understanding of the weekly Torah portion.
“Part of it is to create a sense of comfortability so you can walk into any synagogue and feel in the know, but it’s also about the underpinnings of what prayer is all about and why we carve out time to do it,” she shares. “We do an hour of parshah discussion as well, to connect the text with a sense of relevance and purpose to our daily lives. We explain that it’s not just Moshe, for example, talking to the Jewish people 3,000 years ago. He’s talking to us now.”
If you’re wondering when this woman sleeps, you’re not alone. “Daniel and I joke that sleep is for the afterlife,” she says. But she also credits quality time with her four kids as pure energy. “On an average night, from six to nine, let’s say, I don’t have my phone with me,” Kraus explains. “I am in full-on tickle, dance party mode with the kids. It’s just cuddling, homework, singing, bedtime, and spending time together.”
We sat down with this power woman to learn how she got to where she is today, what the status of the retail industry is, and how you can master a life of intention.
What attracted you to your current job and industry? Did you always know what you wanted to do?
Absolutely not. I had no idea. It was through a combination of having an open mind and an insatiable curiosity that I ended up creating this pathway. It came through a lot of exploration, a willingness to challenge myself, and being able to answer opportunities as they came.
When I finished my undergraduate degree, I worked at a nonprofit for a bit, but it wasn’t for me. Then an opportunity for an assistant marketing director role became available at a property based in New Jersey. I thought, Okay, I know nothing about retail, I don’t even like shopping, I know nothing about real estate, but hey! I’ll apply.
So I applied and got the job. It was an entry-level position. From there I was embraced by the company and grew in many different ways, both in terms of breadth and depth.
What kinds of projects were you working on?
When I started, I was working out of the Garden State Plaza, which is actually one of the top-producing malls in the country. I was doing a combination of community engagement and working with retailers. I was also part of a very small group of people who had started growing and expanding a revenue-generating department within the company, all based on strategic partnerships. That was a first, not only for the company but also for the industry.
Later, I worked on the 2012 Olympic Games in London, which was adjacent to one of our properties. They brought me out to be part of the development of a global think tank. I was working with some of the Olympic brand partners to leverage those relationships back to the home markets. Most recently, I was very fortunate to be a part of the rebuilding and redevelopment of the World Trade Center. And all of that happened just from that one job posting.
(Excerpted from 2.0 Issue 3)
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