By and  on December 6, 2010

Mindy Meads, Aeropostale Inc.’s co-chief executive officer, herself chose to leave the company, market sources said. The disclosure Wednesday that Meads’ last day at the retailer is Dec. 15 surprised the investment community.

Meads could not be reached for comment about the reasons for her departure. An Aéropostale spokesman said Meads will “pursue other interests,” and that she’s leaving the company with a “solid infrastructure” of merchants.

Some sources said she didn’t always see eye to eye with former ceo Julian Geiger, who resigned earlier this year. Geiger, who remains as chairman, named Meads and then-chief operating officer and executive vice president Thomas Johnson co-ceos in February.

The shared position is atypical, and sources said that Meads became less directly involved with merchandising, a role at which she excelled. Before Meads joined Aéropostale three years ago, boxy sweatshirts and traditional cotton T-shirts lined the store’s shelves. Meads infused the brand with a trendy sensibility while keeping prices low.

“The co-ceo arrangement seemed awkward, but the departure of Mindy Meads was unexpected nonetheless,” said FBR Capital Markets analyst Liz Dunn. “On her watch, the company saw rapid expansion in its [comparable-store sales] and margins.”

But the retailer reported weaker-than-expected third-quarter earnings, due in part to softness in women’s fashion.

Morgan Stanley’s Kimberly Greenberger, said, “Most likely, she’s going to another opportunity. Why would she leave a co-ceo spot?”

One source said Meads will take the rest of the month off before disclosing her plans. Some believe she’ll surface at a smaller firm where she can play a key role in building the firm into a brand powerhouse, a move that one consultant said plays to her key merchandising strengths. Some analysts believe Meads has secured a ceo post elsewhere.

According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Meads has a non-compete agreement that begins in January and lasts 15 months. Meads’ separation deal stipulates that she will receive a salary through April 2011 and severance of $1.6 million.

Speculation is that Meads could take the helm at women’s retailer The Wet Seal Inc., a company that is in the market for a merchant-ceo. Calls to the retailer for comment were not returned by press time. Analysts also pointed to several misses’ retailers, such as Caché Inc., Coldwater Creek Inc. and Christopher & Banks Corp. that are looking for ceos and could be a potential landing spot for Meads.

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