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Esprit Taps Inditex Veteran as New CEO

Jose Manuel Martinez Gutiérrez will replace an outgoing Ronald Van Der Vis on or before the end of September.

HONG KONG — Esprit Holdings Ltd. said Tuesday it has named Inditex veteran Jose Manuel Martinez Gutiérrez as its new chief executive officer and executive director, replacing the departing Ronald Van der Vis.

The appointment comes just a few months after Van Der Vis and Esprit’s then-chairman Hans-Joachim Körber both resigned unexpectedly, sending Esprit shares into a steep downward spiral and prompting questions about the underperforming retailer’s future.

The news gave Esprit shares a significant jolt. They gained 28 percent to close at 12.76 Hong Kong dollars, or $1.65, on Tuesday.

Martinez has held a variety of “senior positions” at Zara’s corporate parent, Inditex, Esprit said. Most recently he was group director of distribution and operations. Prior to that, he oversaw Zara’s business in Scandinavia. Before joining Inditex, he led McKinsey & Co.’s retail and consumer goods practice in Spain.

Esprit’s nonexecutive deputy chairman Paul Cheng said the “latest indication” is that Martinez will start his new job at Esprit in mid- to late September. He will be based in Ratingen, Germany. The company also said Tuesday that it may look to expand its board by one or two.

Esprit’s new appointment comes as the company is in the midst of a dramatic restructuring plan, which was introduced in 2011. Speaking to members of the media Tuesday, Cheng said there may be some “fine-tuning” of the restructuring plan.

“Any plan, no matter how well thought out, sometimes will need to make some adjustments as we go along. But I think it’s too early to tell, as far as what Jose intends to do, because we need to give him time to review the plan. He should talk to the current senior management team, and together they will decide on whether there is any need for fine-tuning of the plan,” Cheng said.

Under Van der Vis, Esprit set out to improve the “fashionability” of its brand and focus on Asia and select European markets for future growth. In February, the company said it planned to shutter all of its stores in North America by the end of March.

Cheng defended those moves Tuesday.

“For the time being, we want to focus on maintaining our very successful operation in Europe while aggressively investing in Asia, which is, on a macro basis, the growth region of the world today. We’re not going to neglect Europe in any way at all, because Europe is still a very important part of our business. As for North America, for the time being, we will take a rest. That does not mean that at some time in the future, we will not go back to that market.”

The sudden departure of the chief executive and chairman earlier this year left investors and analysts speculating if there had been disagreement about the turnaround plan. Executives denied this during a hastily organized conference call with journalists and analysts in June. Van der Vis said he was leaving his post for personal reasons, and his and Körber’s resignations were coincidental. Van der Vis said the company’s restructuring plan was on track and making progress.

With two senior executives having backed out citing personal commitments, Cheng emphasized that Martinez and Thomas Tang, Esprit’s new chief financial officer, have made a commitment to stay on.