By  on October 3, 2005

NEW YORK — Wall Street is betting on the arrival of former American Eagle Outfitters Inc. chief financial officer Laura A. Weil at Ann Taylor Stores Corp. today as the key to the retailer's turnaround success.

Analysts feel Weil can cure the retailer's inventory and fashion hiccups, which helped cause a 37 percent drop in profits in full-year 2004. Weil's expertise and no-nonsense manner is expected to complement the skills of Kay Krill, Ann Taylor's president. The addition of Weil also will allow Krill to focus on what she does best: merchandising and marketing.

Krill, 49, who will replace J. Patrick Spainhour as chief executive officer of Ann Taylor next month, already has been credited with turning around the company's Loft division. On the company's quarterly conference call in August, Krill said the company's new priority is to improve financial performance in the Ann Taylor division.

The company initially announced its search for a chief operating officer — a new position — in late March after detailing a succession plan for Krill to become ceo following the retirement of long-standing chairman and ceo Spainhour, 55.

Weil's background certainly makes her well suited for the chief operating officer role. Weil worked at American Eagle for 10 years, focusing on all financial aspects of the business, including real estate, pricing, assortment sourcing and logistics. Prior to American Eagle, Weil was head of the retailing investment banking practice at Oppenheimer & Co. Prior to that, she held several executive positions at R.H. Macy & Co.

Analysts agree that inventory management is surely one of the areas where Weil, 48, can help Ann Taylor, which operates 792 stores and an online business. Sanders Morris Harris analyst Liz Pierce said Weil, who will be the number-two executive at Ann Taylor behind Krill, likely will act as the intermediary between finance and merchandising, which is what the struggling company needs.

According to Ann Taylor's August 31 press release announcing Weil's appointment, she will focus on finance and accounting; investor relations; merchandise planning; information systems; all supply chain operations including sourcing, logistics and distribution; real estate; construction and facilities, and related purchasing.

An Ann Taylor spokeswoman said Krill was unavailable for comment. Weil, whose last day at American Eagle was Sept. 9, could not be reached for comment.

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