By  on January 12, 2009

Misery loves company and there will be lots of holiday sob stories to swap at this evening’s Financo chief executive officer seminar and dinner.

After 19 years, Financo Inc. is still one of retailing’s hottest tickets. It’s an annual schmooze fest at the Harmonie Club for scores of merchandising leaders, and often an incubator for big transactions. Aside from the dismal Christmas and dire outlook, cocktail chatter is bound to center on bankruptcy speculation, retailers expanding or contracting, who’s entering or leaving the executive suite and who can fill the long vacant ceo slots at Barneys New York and Sears Holdings Corp.

The retailers could sit around and gripe about business, but that’s precisely what Financo wants to avoid with its seminar. “We have given significant thought to the questions,” said Gilbert Harrison, Financo chairman, who will moderate and query the panel on short-term versus long-term goals, overstoring as contributing to the poor holiday results, the possibility of building brand equity in a dismal economy and altering the bargain-hunting mentality of consumers after a frenzied season of markdowns.

“It’s not going to be about comp-store sales. The theme is more about where the industry is headed and how to manage through tough times,” said Bill Susman, Financo’s president. “It’s about how to adjust in this new environment, and how will success be measured.”

One big surprise is that David Simon, chairman and ceo of Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest mall operator, has agreed to participate in the seminar. He rarely does such engagements, though, since malls are losing tenants as retail doors shutter, it’s important for Simon and other developers to shore up tenant relationships. Lately, retailers have been gaining leverage in negotiations. “There is a continuing natural tension,” between retail tenants and landlords, said Susman, while Harrison added: “Landlords are eager to keep things in place.”

Also on the panel: Millard “Mickey” Drexler, chairman and ceo of J. Crew, who has been outspoken about the company’s mission to provide designer-quality goods at way less than designer prices; Burt Tansky, chairman and ceo of Neiman Marcus Inc., where the sales declines have been among the nation’s steepest, as well as Mindy Grossman, ceo of HSN, and Gordon Segal, chairman and founder of Crate & Barrel.

Howard Socol, who split from Barneys as ceo last summer, has resurfaced as a consultant and could work the crowd for clients. Other first-timers to Financo are ceo’s Matt Serra of Foot Locker Inc., Wes Card of Jones Apparel Group Inc., Michael George from QVC, Tom Singh of New Look and Blake Krueger of Wolverine World Wide Inc.

In the audience and coming for cocktails are such ceo’s as Terry Lundgren of Macy’s Inc., Richard Baker of Hudson’s Bay Trading Co., Myron “Mike” Ullman of J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Stephen I. Sadove of Saks Inc., Brendan Hoffman of Lord & Taylor, Michael Gould of Bloomingdale’s, Joe Gromek of Warnaco Group Inc. and Solomon Lew of Century Plaza Group.

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