How did Millard “Mickey” Drexler feel getting fired from Gap after catapulting the business from $400 million to $14 billion in revenues?

“You are furious. Angry. You are unhappy, and you cry a bit. But at the end of the day, you can’t put yourself in the position of thinking that those that always judge you are right. If I started to look at what was created long term, I started to feel a little better.”

This story first appeared in the April 23, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

So Drexler, the former Gap Inc. chief executive and now chairman and ceo of J. Crew Group, confided during a half-hour interview that aired on “Charlie Rose” on Monday. It was Drexler’s first television interview since joining J. Crew in 2003, and an opportunity to get philosophical on various subjects — from recruiting to establishing a corporate culture to rejection to his personal “uniform” of J. Crew striped shirts and jeans.

From his Gap experience, which ended abruptly in October 2002, Drexler earned a higher respect for those who have taken a professional knock or two, and he bears that in mind when interviewing job candidates. “I don’t size up their degrees. I don’t size up their grades or board scores, because in America today, that’s just an advantage certain people have. I size up the give and take, the speed of thinking and what I perceive as ambition,” Drexler said. “I love people who worked in coffee shops who are waiters and waitresses. They’ve learned to get their butt kicked a bit. They’ve learned to work hard. They’ve haven’t had privileged jobs, in a sense. I look for people coming out of school who are wanting, hungry, smart, and people who are passionate about what they do….I want them to know not to be fearful of the big bosses.”

They comprise, Drexler said, “a very elitist community…and we don’t know that much. The 25-year-olds or college graduates, they are the ones wearing the clothes. They are the ones looking at the trends. I learn everyday [at work], which is what keeps me very stimulated. When I started my career at Bloomingdale’s, I was afraid of the bosses.”

New employees will discover a J. Crew culture where everyone is on a first-name basis, there are no offices and “you can say anything you want at any time and not be afraid,” Drexler said. “Everyone will be heard, respected and listened to, and own a piece of the business.”

It is also a culture where calls are returned and letters are answered quickly, he added. “You’ll go out of your way to do everything you can do because we are fighting the antiservice situation in America.”

Asked what drew him to J. Crew after Gap, Drexler said: “I always admired J. Crew from afar. I was obsessed with J. Crew’s wash. They knew how to wash chinos. They had this secret wash. I don’t know what it was. We always tried to re-create it at Gap, a little at Old Navy, but never could.”

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