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NEW YORK — Among industry events, the Financo Inc. dinner remains a coveted ticket and an evening where the gossip and ribbing run rampant and a fraternal feeling prevails.

And this year’s dinner, given Monday at the Harmonie Club, proved true to form, with Financo Inc. chairman Gil Harrison, as per tradition, passing around the microphone to a few in the crowd to impart pearls of business wisdom or recount winning Christmas seasons.

After hearing from several executives on their successes, Prof. Walter Salmon of Harvard, noted: “This must be a very selective group since everybody has positive stories.”

On a more serious note, he advised the crowd to think carefully about rolling out new stores, warning that they’ll “figure into less of the total, if the aspirations we all have for the Internet are realized.”

After expressing some reservations about the Kmart-Sears merger, Arthur Martinez, former Sears, Roebuck chief executive officer, observed: “Secular trends are overwhelming cyclical trends. Whether the economy goes up or down, or the euro goes up or down is less important than having a winning formula for business. The challenge for those in the middle markets [where Sears, May Co. and Saks department stores fall] is to find a breakout strategy. The middle of the market will continue to consolidate.”

Joe Gromek, president and ceo of Warnaco Inc., advised, “Don’t be a monobrand, use multiple channels of distribution and lastly, be global.”

Asked whether the online selling momentum will be sustained in 2005, Jeff Bezos, ceo and founder of Amazon.com Inc., told WWD: “It’s hard to know. But customers are seeing us as a broader place where they can buy more merchandise. Electronics during Thanksgiving weekend sold more than books for the first time, even though books set a new record.”

Also in the crowd of 200 were Burton Tansky, president and ceo of Neiman Marcus Group, and rival Andrew Jennings, president and vice chairman of Saks Fifth Avenue (who were seated at the same table, but were separated by other guests); Jay Margolis, newly appointed head of apparel at Limited Brands Inc.; Denise Seegal, president and ceo of Nautica Enterprises, who had to endure everyone singing “Happy Birthday” to her; Brooks Brothers ceo Claudio Del Vecchio; former Financo Inc. president William Smith, and a host of former top retail ceos, including Hal Kahn from Macy’s and Mark Cohen from Sears Canada.

This story first appeared in the January 19, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“We had to turn away a ton of people, but we don’t want to compromise the intimacy,” said Harrison. “Fifteen years ago, we started with six people in the Four Seasons — Gordon Segal, Don Fisher, Georges Meyer, Bertrum Moss and Ken Walker.”

“I always wondered what the price of admission is to this dinner,” said Financo Inc.’s new president, William Susman. “The price is, I accepted a job.”

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