By  on February 2, 2007

More change swept through Gap Inc. on Thursday when company veteran Marka Hansen was named to replace Cynthia Harriss as president of the Gap North America division.

The switch came less than two weeks after the struggling 3,100-unit retailer pushed out president and chief executive officer Paul Pressler after a failed four-and-a-half-year turnaround effort.

The departure of Harriss, who the company said resigned, underscored the sense of urgency felt by Gap’s interim president and chief executive officer, Robert Fisher, son of company founder Donald Fisher, to improve the fortunes of the brand. Hansen, who was president of the chain’s Banana Republic unit, will report to Fisher. She will take over from Harriss immediately.

Jack Calhoun, executive vice president of marketing and merchandising at Banana Republic, will lead that division on an interim basis as president, a company spokesman said. Asked whether the company was looking for a new president for Banana, the spokesman said, “There is no search at this time.”

Gap is already conducting a search for Pressler’s successor.

Hansen has had a long and varied career with Gap. She joined the company in 1987 as a merchandise manager at Banana Republic and in 1993 moved to the international division as vice president of merchandising, leading the brand’s expansion into Europe and Japan. She was promoted to senior vice president in 1995. Hansen briefly led Gap’s human resources unit in 2000, before being promoted to executive vice president of Gap adult merchandising in 2002. She became president of Banana Republic in 2003.

The Gap and Old Navy divisions have been suffering from declining market share and negative same-store sales.

Mark Montagna, an analyst at CL King, said Hansen “knows the culture and probably has a pretty good vision of what the Gap should be. She knows the points of differentiation for all three divisions. She’s run Banana, which is a company that has a point of view, whereas Gap and Old Navy stand for nothing.”

Hansen’s longevity and success at Gap may provide Fisher with a level of comfort that had been absent during Pressler’s tenure. The former Walt Disney executive was criticized for relying too heavily on consumer focus groups rather than design and gut instinct to create products.“They’re picking those who they know and can trust,” said Richard Jaffe, a retail analyst at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. “Cynthia [Harriss] was the opposite. She was very much Pressler’s pick. She had been [at Gap North America] long enough to have an impact and the impact was negative.”

Harriss joined Gap in 2004 after being president of the Disney Co.’s Disneyland Resort unit.

“Bob’s said there should be more creativity and Hansen understands the iconic brand,” said Gabrielle Kivitz, senior retail analyst at Deutsche Bank. “Gap is the more necessary fix and it makes sense to allocate resources there. Hansen is coming from a division that’s executing better. The aesthetic is much better at Banana and it’s more trend-relevant than Gap and Old Navy have been.”

Hansen will again be working with Karen Hillman, who in December joined Gap as senior vice president of the adult business from Banana Republic. “I’m assuming Marka and Karen will be a team again,” Kivitz said.

Gap stock on Thursday rose 42 cents, or 2.2 percent, to close at $19.59 in New York Stock Exchange trading.

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