By  on October 5, 2006

NEW YORK — Christina Johnson, former president and chief executive officer of Saks Fifth Avenue, has joined new Lord & Taylor owner NRDC Equity Partners as a partner and managing director of retail and consumer investments.

The move led to speculation that NRDC eventually might seek to acquire Saks, which is in turnaround mode and isn't for sale. Still, several private equity and real estate firms, including NRDC, have shown interest in the retailer, people close to the situation said.

"We have more than enough to chew on for a while,'' Richard Baker, president of NRDC, said during an interview Wednesday. "We really want to focus on Lord & Taylor and make it into the premium brand it should be." However, Baker acknowledged, "We are looking at other things," and added that the company remains "very price conscious." He did not disclose any targets.

That's where Johnson comes in. "I will work with NRDC to assist on new acquisitions and the due diligence, and help them manage properties we acquire," she said.

Acquisitions could be in the retail, travel and restaurant sectors, Johnson said, adding that wholesale companies were a possibility, though they are not a sector NRDC is actively exploring.

NRDC is looking for companies that have brand recognition, are cash-positive, present growth opportunities and have strong management, Johnson said. She was involved in the Lord & Taylor deal as a temporary consultant for Tri-Artisan Partners, which provides advice on mergers, acquisitions and divestitures and often is involved in private equity transactions.

Johnson, who headed Saks from 2000 to 2003, described her role at NRDC as that of an adviser and a backup for store management in case of a departure. But she stressed, "I am not looking to operate a company," and said Jane Elfers would continue to run L&T, as president and ceo. Johnson will join L&T's board.

"Christina Johnson brings a wealth of knowledge and resources to our company," Baker said. "Her relationships within the retail community and overall expertise in consumer marketing will be a powerful asset for us to grow our acquired businesses as well as building our portfolio."

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