By Lauren R. Giannini
Portraits by Isabel J. Kurek
Glen Senk, the creative talent behind the clothing store Anthropologie, remembers being profoundly influenced by a legend when he was 12. “I rode with George Morris for one year and learned so much from him in a short period of time,” said Glen. “Years later, I carried all that into boardrooms and businesses. I tell him and I tell other people that I learned more from George Morris than I did in college or graduate school.”
Glen’s a three-time CEO: URBN (Urban Outfitters), David Yurman, and most recently, Front Row Partners, which he founded in 2014, thereby beginning a whole new chapter in his business life. Long before Glen became known as a marketing and branding genius, he developed a passion for horses. That’s really where his story begins …
“George Morris is an amazing human being and, every time I see him, I tell him that he had a profound influence on who I am as a person — lessons like the importance of being prepared, of mental preparedness, of toughness, of discipline,” said Glen. “He taught me to do things right the first time. The importance of practice — I remember doing gymnastics in lessons. George taught muscle memory. He focused on one thing and drilled it over and over again. He wouldn’t let it go until you got it right. His book is called ‘Relentless’ and he is relentless. I learned relentlessness from George Morris.”
Glen grew up in New York in Brooksville, Long Island, and credits his mother for supporting his passion for horses. “I rode with a local instructor for the first few years, but my mother encouraged me to ride with George when I was 12,” recalled Glen. “I rode with him until he moved to Hunterdon in New Jersey. Then, I rode with Victor Hugo-Vidal for the rest of my junior career. That was during the late 1960s and early ’70s, which meant that I had one horse that I showed in hunters, jumpers and equitation divisions — all at the same show.”
His parents were happy to support Glen’s showing, but only if he cared for the horses himself. “That, for me, was part of the joy. I mucked, groomed, braided — I did everything,” said Glen. “I can’t do all that now, because I don’t have the time, but what I learned growing up with my horses gave me the ability to connect with them even when I’m busy with business. I really love to have a relationship with my horses. Now, when I go to Rivers Edge — I ride with Scott Stewart and Ken Berkley— I love taking the time to sit in the stall with them. I love grooming them and just being around them. I still love cleaning my tack. I think my horses like me because they know how much they mean to me.”
As a junior, Glen noted that two horses stand out as great. One was Union Jack, whom he retired. The other one, Happy Jack, renamed Tap The Till, went on to partner with Susie Shapiro, wife of Olympic show jumping medalist Neil Shapiro, before competing successfully for another decade on the West Coast.
“I had many good horses as a junior,” said Glen. “It wasn’t like it is now. Back then, nobody paid a lot of money for a horse and the horses did everything — they trail rode and showed in jumpers, hunters and equitation. I grew up riding Thoroughbreds — being soft and tactful is the way I like to ride. I didn’t sit on a Warmblood until my mid-30s.”
When his junior years were up, Glen’s father told him he had to pay for the horses himself. It would be 18 years before he could afford horses on his own. “I rode briefly on the West Coast and trained with Carleton Brooks,” said Glen. “I showed for two seasons at Indio and did the circuit. I had nice horses and did reasonably well. Then I came back to the Northeast U.S. to start Anthropologie.”
As Glen’s passion for horses enjoyed a renaissance, his involvement went far beyond his promise to stick to just one show hunter. His stable grew by leaps and bounds, alongside his aptitude for branding.
When Glen moved to Urban Outfitters, its subsidiary Anthropologie was a single store “prototype” located in Philadelphia that he grew into a wildly successful global chain.
“It was a labor of love, very creative,” said Glen. “We had about 8,000 employees and I still speak with many of them. We were building something from nothing, doing it in a very honest and creative way. It was profitable with integrity. It was joyful, fun, fulfilling work. After building Anthropologie, I assumed responsibility for the entire Urban Outfitters corporation, which was very different. I also loved the Urban Outfitters brand — youthful and counterculture — as much as I loved Anthropologie.
Glen admits being a brand enthusiast. “They’re an important part of what I do today,” he said. “I’m a creative person and I love working with people. I believe that brands are more important today than ever. One of the ways you can break through in business is by having a very strong brand that stands for something in a very disciplined and authentic way.”
His résumé reads like a Who’s Who of retail, but his undergraduate degree in computer science gave him the edge. Glen ended up running Bloomingdale’s By Mail after he started at Bloomingdale’s, because he was the only one who understood the database. He also worked for Habitat, Williams-Sonoma (including the brands Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Hold Everything, Chambers and Gardener’s Eden), URBN (Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Free People, BHLDN and Terrain), and David Yurman. He admits having the good fortune to serve on the board of directors for Cooking.com, Bare Escentuals, Tory Burch, Melissa & Doug, and Aritzia, in addition to URBN, David Yurman and Opening Ceremony.
About 15 years ago, via a directorship he had with Bare Escentuals, Glen became acquainted with Berkshire Partners, a private equity firm. That relationship planted an idea that led to Glen starting Front Row Partners whose mission would be investing in growth companies and giving him the opportunity to apply his own business acumen and experience as mentor.
“Berkshire and I talked about doing something like this years ago— some of my most favorite times have been working with other entrepreneurs,” said Glen. “And since I’ve always had a strong feeling where the consumer is headed, we established a partnership to support forward-thinking entrepreneurs with capital and other resources, along with mentorship and guidance.”
While Glen doesn’t show his horses hard or often, he still manages to impress the judges. Part of that is due to his compassion and love for horses, and part of it is his early childhood training with George. He’s quick to credit much of his current success to Scott Stewart and Ken Berkley.
“I’ve had 12 amazing years with Scott and Ken — I’m incredibly lucky to ride with them,” said Glen. “They’re wonderful teachers and trainers, and exceptional horsemen. Scott taught me to let each horse show me how he or she wants to go — to really trust and listen to what the horse is telling me, and also to adapt my riding to the horse’s way of going so that the horse is as happy and comfortable as possible. Scott’s a master at bringing out the best in every horse, and that’s part of how he does it. He focuses on the positive in every animal and builds on that strength.”
Glen doesn’t think about his “eye for a distance” anymore, because Scott taught him to trust it, to let the horse show him the distance while focusing on his own balance, connection and rhythm. “Glen really loves his horses and always gives them a soft ride,” said Scott. “He’s also been a very supportive owner, giving the horses as much time as they need to meet their potential.”
Glen’s biggest winners include Declaration, Dedication, Highland Park and Loyalty — all Show Hunter Hall of Fame horses. His Beholden was champion or reserve every time he showed as a Green Conformation Hunter. Seven of Glen’s horses are WEF circuit champions, and several have been champion and grand champion at Indoors and Devon, as well as USEF Horse of the Year.
“I love all horses, but I definitely have a type — I’m a sucker for a beautiful horse, and my really special horses are beautiful, inside and out,” said Glen. “They’re athletic and smart. They have a strong work ethic, meaning they have the will to win. They’re fighters in a good way, loyal, and never let me down.”
One perfect example of Glen’s “type” is Declaration, who showed for eight years, winning show after show, year after year, from the Grand Hunter Championship at Washington International as a First Year Horse to multiple derbies to the Regular Conformation Horse of the Year Award to numerous WEF circuit championships, right up to winning the Amateur Owner Stake at Devon in his very last competition.
“Declaration was the horse both Scott and I could always rely on — that horse never complained. He always knew when it was important. He always took care of his owner,” said Glen. “I’ve been wildly fortunate to have some really special horses. Each one has had a distinct personality, and I love them all as if they were my children, but I love some of them more than others.
“There’s no horse more appropriately named than Loyalty and for that, he will forever have my heart,” continued Glen. “Thinking about Highland Park always makes me smile — his gentle nicker, the way he licked my face as long as I would let him, and his complete conviction that he was put on this earth to be my caretaker. How lucky we are to have these animals in our lives whom we love so much and who bring us so much joy!”