NEW YORK — As the financial and retail industries kept their eyes focused on the economy and pondered the developments in Iraq, several executives caught a brief respite at the Gordon Brothers Group 100th anniversary party at The Metropolitan Club here last week.

Attendees paid tribute to the firm’s multifaceted assortment of services, which range from asset redeployment for successful operations to liquidation of excess inventories, and engaged in wide-ranging discussions of issues pertaining to the celebrants and others in the industry.

Bettina Whyte, corporate turnaround and restructuring specialist at AlixPartners, said that "Gordon Brothers has a history of adding value to the matters that we work on together. One of the firm’s major strengths is its integrity. They have a really strong knowledge of the industry and know exactly what it takes to get the matter resolved. We feel very comfortable with the advice that they give and find after a [project] is completed that the returns they promise are fair and not inflated," she said.

To what does the century-old firm attribute its success?

Michael Frieze, chief executive officer, told attendees that the firm reached its milestone because of a three-pronged focus: treating clients well, providing value through its services, and giving back to the community.

The latter was the focus of the keynote presentation by Jeffrey Swartz, president and ceo of The Timberland Co.

"Doing well and doing good are not separate ideas," Swartz said.

He explained that a company’s responsibility for providing shareholder value isn’t limited to focusing on a strong bottom line to help boost the price of a firm’s shares. "Is the business of business just to deliver this quarter?" he asked rhetorically. For Timberland, accountability means a continual effort to be "your brother’s or sister’s keeper."

Service, Swartz emphasized, is a way to connect across all cultures. Timberland, for example, allows its employees to take service sabbaticals in which the employee utilizes his or her core competency to help a specific charitable foundation.

Swartz also told the executives, "It is a necessary condition that we be successful. It is also a necessary condition to make a difference in the world around us."Of course, no industry party could ever be without some gossip about what’s in the news and what could soon be a hot topic.

Robert Wildrick, ceo of men’s wear specialty chain Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc., observed: "As we see oil prices come down and the war efforts subside, consumers will feel better. I think the second half will be better than the first, or at least I’m planning [my business] that way."

Robert Kenzer, who heads up his own executive search firm, was pondering which executive might want to jump ship to head up either The Warnaco Group or Tommy Hilfiger Corp. Both searches have lasted for several months. "The problem," Kenzer whispered, "is that the firms hired to do the searches haven’t really been digging deep enough to get the right baseline talent put in front of management."

Denise Seegal, president and ceo of Sweetface Fashion Co., which manufactures the JLo by Jennifer Lopez brand, was in a deep huddle with Mitchell Leventhal, chief financial officer of Macy’s East, discussing how apparel firms can bring excitement to the retail landscape. Leventhal disclosed: "We are bringing in new vendors as fast as we can," in an effort to bring some differentiation into the stores and set the retailer apart from its competition.

Yet, the two also lamented the fact that there has been a paucity of new designers, in part because of the lack of opportunities available and because the small size of many operations has limited their financial ability to expand.

Seegal said that’s not a concern to her firm: "We are small and flexible enough to excel in this kind of retail environment. If we were a more mature brand, it would be more difficult for us. We hit $130 million at retail in 2002, and are poised to do $175 million at retail for 2003."

Also on hand for the festivities were: Financo’s Gilbert Harrison, William Smith and Marvin Traub; Fleet Retail Finance’s Edward Siskin; former Bradlees’ ceo Peter Thorner; Wells Fargo’s David Lipkin, and CIT’s Gary Prager. Among the other Gordon Brothers brass on hand were: Mark Schwartz, president; Andrew Graiser, co-ceo at DJM Asset Management, a GB affiliated-firm with an eye on real estate matters; James Schaye, from the GB Retail Partners division, and Mervyn Weich, ceo of Gordon Brothers Ltd., spearheading GB’s global operations.

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