By  on August 9, 2011

Ricky Sasaki, global chief executive officer of Theory and senior executive officer of Fast Retailing Co. Ltd., died Tuesday of stomach cancer. Sasaki, 60, was in Tokyo at the time of his death.

Sasaki, whose career spanned four decades and took him from his native Japan to New York, Hong Kong and back to Tokyo, played an instrumental role in building Theory into a global contemporary powerhouse. He also served as ceo of Link Theory Japan, and co-ceo of Fast Retailing France SAS.

He started his career in the early Seventies at the Takihyou Corp., rising through the ranks to become resident officer at the Takihyou New York Corp. before relocating to Hong Kong. In 1980, he was named ceo of WHK Holdings Co. Ltd., and during his 19 years at the manufacturing firm, he worked with brands such as Anne Klein and Kenneth Cole. He left the firm in 1999 to introduce Theory in Japan in a license deal with Link International.

“The Theory concept is to create fashionable basic clothes to suit the contemporary lifestyle of women today,” Sasaki said in an interview on Fast Retailing’s Web site. “I believe the biggest reason why women continue to wear Theory clothes is because we are careful to uphold the brand’s traditional approach, which our customers have always appreciated. That is the strength of the Theory brand.”

Andrew Rosen, who shared the ceo title at Theory with Sasaki, had known the executive for three decades, and grew particularly close to him during his time as ceo at Anne Klein, where Sasaki served as a Hong Kong partner.

“He was Japanese, so he was very traditional in his Japanese ways, but so international in his thinking and reach,” Rosen recalled. “It’s very rare for a Japanese businessman to do so much outside of Japan.”

The business relationship and personal friendship between the two grew in the late Nineties, when Sasaki left Hong Kong in 1999 to return to Japan and help Rosen and Elie Tahari bring Theory there.

“I could think of no better partner, no better friend, or no better man, frankly, to be aligned with than Ricky,” Rosen said.

Tahari echoed those sentiments. “He was so upbeat and full of energy, always smiling and always bringing excitement into the room,” he said. “We started Theory, and he licensed it from us in Japan and became very successful very quickly. I had utmost respect for his ability and his achievement.

“He was full of life, and to see him not alive is a shock, at such a young age,” he added.

In 2003, Link International acquired Theory with Fast Retailing, and since then, Rosen and Sasaki worked in tandem to build the brand globally, most recently bringing in Olivier Theyskens as creative director of the brand.

“Ricky’s support was decisive in my nomination at Theory,” Theyskens said. “Together with Andrew Rosen, his exceptional talent, vision and leadership have been fundamental for the company’s success. Ricky had a unique personality, full of life, empowered by tremendous energy.”

Kenneth Cole worked closely with Sasaki in the mid-Nineties, when the executive opened the first Kenneth Cole boutique for him in Hong Kong. “He was a global citizen,” Cole said. “He had a huge smile and a huge heart. He was wonderfully gracious and generous to everybody. He always only saw things the way they ought to be. You always wanted to please him and make things work out. He will be greatly missed.”

Frank Mori, who owned Anne Klein with Tomio Taki and worked closely with Sasaki, called him a “man’s man.” “He was beautifully dressed and perfectly manicured,” Mori said. “He was dedicated to his business and dedicated to his clients. I never saw him have a down day, I never saw him not optimistic about what could be done. I don’t know a soul who ever met and didn’t like him.”

Rosen recalled Sasaki’s particular passion for golf. “We played golf all over the world together,” he said. “We’d go to California, to Florida, to Kentucky.…Wherever we went, everyone loved Ricky and lit up when they saw him. Once, Ricky went on a dove hunt on a horse farm in Kentucky. I remember him with his shotgun. He felt like he was in the Wild West. He was so happy.”

Sasaki is survived by five children: his daughters Juri, Chion and Ricako, and sons Gen and Riku.

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