NEW YORK — When he was president and chief merchandising officer of Duty Free Stores Group in the mid-Eighties, Fred Wilson would take his cup of coffee and walk around the office every morning greeting the troops. As Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises' chairman and chief executive officer, he displayed the same engaging qualities.
"He's a personal dynamo," said Bud Konheim, president and ceo of Nicole Miller. "He likes action. He returns a phone call within an hour, even if he's in Timbuktu."
But while Wilson was well liked in the industry, Saks seemed adrift under his watch. During his tenure, Saks Fifth Avenue has been hit by scandal. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan are investigating the store's excessive allowances for markdowns. In addition, financial results have been disappointing.
"Wilson was always open to hear what you've got to say," said one manufacturer, adding that he improved presentation in stores. "Before Fred started, the floors looked crammed and disorganized. After he took over, the floors looked better because they cut down on the vendors."
Wilson has a long résumé. Before joining Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises, he was chairman, president, and ceo of Donna Karan International. Wilson also held the post of ceo for the specialty store retail division of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and was ceo of LVMH Fashion Group for the Americas. His 17 years at Duty Free Stores included stints in Guam and Hong Kong.
Friends said Wilson has spoken of retiring for some time and the wish to spend more time with his four children and one grandchild. Three of his children live in California and he and his wife own a home there.
"I worked with Fred for many years at DFS Group," said Kirk Martin, executive vice president. "He is a very inspirational leader. He instills great loyalty in people who work for him. He is very energetic and has good vision on where to take a company and a business. I was a little surprised that he's leaving Saks. He's not a guy that gets frustrated."
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