By  on January 20, 2006

NEW YORK — Esprit is stepping up its efforts to make North America a priority.

Jerome Griffith has been named president of Esprit North America, a new post. Griffith, who will remain an executive director, will be based here and will report to Heinz Krogner, deputy chairman and group chief executive officer of Esprit, who is based in Germany.

Andreas Adenauer remains president of Esprit U.S. and will report to Griffith.

"Jerome's mission is to grow the brand in North America," said Krogner. "We've had a phase of learning and establishing ourselves organizationally and we've made some mistakes, but now we believe we're in a good situation. We're moving forward. North America is our long-term aim, and Jerome is highly committed to making it happen."

Esprit returned to retailing in the U.S. in 2004. Last year, business here was shaky at best. Three top executives resigned, key department stores stopped carrying the brand and a number of licensing agreements were put on hold. In addition, Esprit ceased U.S. distribution of Collection women's suits and career clothes, as well as the entire men's wear line.

Griffith was an obvious candidate for the post, said Krogner. He joined Esprit three and a half years ago as global head of retail operations, then was promoted last year to be joint global chief operating officer with Thomas Grote, who was promoted in December to be president of the brand globally, effective Jan. 1. Currently, no one serves as chief operating officer and Krogner said there are no immediate plans to fill the position.

Prior to Esprit, Griffith was the executive vice president of retail for Tommy Hilfiger and spent 10 years at Gap in charge of international development.

"The advantage of Jerome," Krogner noted, "is that he's American. He knows Esprit inside and out and gets to come back to his home country." Griffith was most recently based in Germany.

Griffith, who's spent 12 of the last 16 years abroad, is up for the challenge. "Asia-Pacific and North America are not growing as fast as Europe. It's going to take someone with the decision-making authority. This is a geographic strategy," Griffith said.

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