By  on April 17, 2006

NEW YORK — Jones Apparel Group announced a shake-up of its executive ranks intended to consolidate management as it seeks a buyer.

The $5 billion apparel manufacturer said Friday that Rhonda Brown, president and chief executive officer of the footwear, accessories and retail group, has left the company. Andrew Cohen has been promoted to ceo of wholesale footwear and accessories. Heather Pech was promoted to ceo of company-owned retail footwear and apparel.

"This new management structure will enable us to better leverage Andy's and Heather's considerable experience and leadership skills," Peter Boneparth, president and ceo, said in a statement.

Boneparth denied that the shuffle had anything to do with thinning the executive ranks in anticipation of the sale of the company. Jones announced March 21 that it was putting itself on the auction block. Financial sources believe Jones is looking for at least $40 a share, which would value the group at $4.56 billion.

Within days of the disclosure, the company's stock reached a 52-week high in intraday trading of $36.10. The stock closed at $34.80 on Thursday, the final full day of trading last week.

"We run our business regardless of what the ultimate disposition of the company could be," Boneparth said. "Whether something happens to the company has nothing to do with these changes."

Boneparth also said he didn't anticipate a need for any sweeping changes.

"I think we feel very good about our organizational structure," he said. "We're a big company and we're obviously thinking about ways to be better, and we think this will do that."

Brown came to New York-based Jones in December 2001, after having served as president and director at Steven Madden Ltd.

Boneparth said in an interview that Cohen and Pech were not new to these business segments, as they had been serving as presidents of their respective divisions since January. Brown had been working on international and other issues that were outside of Cohen and Pech's daily purview, Boneparth said. The need for such a position was deemed no longer necessary, and it was eliminated.

"We feel there's no need for that position of responsibility," said Boneparth, adding that Cohen and Pech will now report to him. "We continue to shorten the lines of communication. As we're going through a general reorganization, the shorter the lines of communication, the more responsive we can be to our customers."Cohen, with more than 30 years experience, joined Jones in July 2001. Pech joined Jones in 1990.

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