By  on January 23, 2008

In a stunning development at J. Crew Group, Jeffrey Pfeifle, president, will leave the company on Feb. 1.

Pfeifle has been the number-two executive at the retailer, reporting to chairman and chief executive officer Millard "Mickey" Drexler, since 2003. He's been a close associate of Drexler for even longer.

"Jeff and I have had a successful collaboration for more than 15 years, with the last five at J. Crew," Drexler said in a statement Tuesday. "He has made significant contributions to our business. I very much appreciate our working relationship and wish him the best."

"I have been fortunate to work with Mickey and such a talented team, and I am proud of what has been accomplished at J. Crew," Pfeifle said.

Pfeifle played a critical role in helping Drexler execute the visions for turnarounds and start-ups, including rebuilding J. Crew and launching Madewell. Mostly, he had executives from the creative sides of the teams reporting to him. Drexler and the quieter Pfeifle seemed to revel in the challenge of a turnaround and in every detail of the business as J. Crew became one of the fastest-growing retailers around.

Significantly, the company said there is no near-term plan to find a successor and that Pfeifle's responsibilities will be assumed by members of the executive team. Some of them have been gaining in stature, growing in their positions and working closer as partners with Drexler, including Jenna Lyons, creative director overseeing women's design; design of Crewcuts, the children's chain; creative development of catalogue and Web.

Other key players are Margot Brunelle, senior vice president of marketing and public relations for J. Crew, Madewell and Crewcuts; Tracy Gardner, president of retail, direct and merchandising; Todd Snyder, senior vice president of men's design; John Valdivia, senior vice president, store visual for J.Crew, Crewcuts and Madewell, and Libby Waddle, executive vice president of the factory division.

Pfeifle could not be reached for further comment on what happened or what his future plans are.

Sources close to the company said Tuesday that they believe Pfeifle doesn't have a new job yet and may have decided to take it easy for awhile after working so hard for several years.Drexler joined J. Crew in late January 2003, after being pushed out as ceo of Gap Inc. A week after he joined J. Crew, he recruited Pfeifle from Old Navy, where he served as executive vice president and had worked closely with Drexler on the Old Navy rollout in the Nineties. Prior to Old Navy, he worked at Polo Ralph Lauren.

Another source close to the company said it was "a mutual decision" for Pfeifle to leave, and that there wasn't a specific disagreement that triggered the departure. J. Crew's announcement on Pfeifle's departure gave few details and did not use the term resignation to characterize his leaving. "I'm wondering if it was a parting of ways," said one retail analyst, who requested anonymity.

Another retail source said the partnership between Drexler and Pfeifle after all these years "was no longer working out. It was time for him to move on. He wasn't as engaged. At one time, Drexler and Pfeifle were real tight."

"I was really shocked," said another retail analyst, who also requested anonymity. "I believe they let him go."

In after-hours trading following the Pfeifle announcement, J. Crew shares fell 30 cents to $39.69, or 0.75 percent.

According to a Form 4 filing by Pfeifle in June, he owned about 540,000 J. Crew common shares. At the current trading price of almost $40, Pfeifle's J. Crew stock would be worth roughly $21.6 million.

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