By and  on November 3, 2008

Ann Taylor finally filled a big gap in its organization on Tuesday by hiring Gary Muto as president of Ann Taylor Loft.

Muto, a 20-year veteran of Gap Inc., starts his new job on Nov. 11 and will report to Kay Krill, president and chief executive officer of AnnTaylor Stores Corp., which also operates the Ann Taylor chain.

The $1.17 billion Loft, with more than 500 stores, is the corporation’s largest division. The $866.8 million Ann Taylor chain operates about 350 stores. Loft prices are roughly one-third those of Ann Taylor.

Muto, 49, succeeds Donna Noce Colaco, who left Loft in January 2007 and in August of that year joined Chico’s FAS Inc. as president of the White House|Black Market division.

“Selecting the right leader for our largest division has been a critical area of focus for me, and the search process was very comprehensive,” Krill said. “I am delighted that Gary is joining the company and confident that his extensive retail experience and strong leadership qualities will add significant value to not only the Loft division, but also the entire Ann Taylor leadership team.”

Muto has more than 25 years of experience in retailing. At Gap Inc., he was most recently president of Gap Adult and GapBody, the second highest job within the Gap brand operation.

Before that, he was president of the now defunct Forth & Towne division of Gap. He launched the concept in fall 2005 and ran the operation until it was closed in February 2007. Two months later, he returned as president of Gap Adult and GapBody. Muto joined Gap in 1988, became president of Banana Republic in 2001 and took the same post at Gap brand the following year.

Ann Taylor’s recent history has been marked by executive turnover. However, several key slots were recently filled. Last month, Lisa Axelson was named head designer, and Mary Kay O’Connor-Wente became head of stores. In September, Paula J. Zusi was named executive vice president and chief supply chain officer, and in August, Christine M. Beauchamp became president of the Ann Taylor chain.

For the second quarter, AnnTaylor Stores Corp. saw a 7.7 percent drop in net earnings and a 10.8 percent drop in same-store sales.

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