By and  on May 17, 2006

As we do every year, WWD­ExecTech scoured the retail landscape to find five executives who have distinguished themselves as exceptional leaders in information technology. This year's selection process was challenging because these executives share a common attribute: They favor a low profile and their style is to champion their people and let their teams' successes do the talking. We highlight their accomplishments here and each will be honored at the WWDExecTech CIO/IT Leadership & Innovation Awards ceremony next week during the annual Retail Systems conference in Chicago.

Guess' retail and global brand expansion puts great pressure on infrastructure to support an increasingly complex business model. Michael Relich, senior vice president of information technology and chief information officer, is the guy performing heroics in the back room, at distribution centers, stores and online, in the U.S. and overseas.

No Superman theatrics, here, though. Relich is all Clark Kent.

He and his team swapped a wholesale-centric systems infrastructure with one that meets the demands of a growing retail business. Relich crafted a "split inventory" system that enhanced accountability, a key win as the Los Angeles company's revenues approach $1 billion.

"When Mike came here, [wholesale and retail] were sharing on the same styles, so it was difficult for the retail team to know exactly what they owned, what exposure they had," said Carlos Alberini, president and chief operating officer. "Now, there is complete transparency."

Alberini listed Relich's achievements: upgraded store systems for greater speed and lower cost; standardized technology in the distribution centers; consolidated servers in the U.S. and integration of the Hong Kong sourcing office; developed a data warehouse that tracks daily sales at international accessories stores; added search features to increase conversion on the Web site, and building an Internet portal for licensees.

The information technology department is smaller than when Relich arrived in 2004, but the team is so versatile that Guess has reduced its reliance on outside consultants.

Best known for his ability to translate business needs into technical solutions, chief information officer and executive vice president Stephen Raish helped engineer a turnaround at J.C. Penney that is still going strong. Last month, he took early retirement after working for the retailer for more than 30 years.

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