By  on April 19, 2005

NEW YORK — Gap Inc. is making some major changes in an attempt to reverse its slowdown.

On Monday, the Gap Brand division announced a new president, Cynthia Harriss, an executive with extensive retail experience. Also, Diane Neal was promoted to president of the Gap outlet division, filling Harriss’ former role.  

Meanwhile, the Old Navy division is dismantling its New York product development team and relocating it to Gap’s San Francisco headquarters. About 100 people work on the team, though many are unlikely to make the move west, according to sources.

A Gap spokeswoman disputed speculation that Old Navy was looking to cut costs. “It’s not about decreasing the head count,” she said. “It’s more about fostering creativity and collaboration.”

The change in tack at Old Navy raises the question of whether the Banana Republic and Gap divisions also might shift personnel. However, the spokeswoman said this was strictly an Old Navy decision. “We’re committed to maintaining a presence in New York,” she said.

The Gap spokeswoman also said that “speed to market” with new products was also an important objective and that the transfer of Old Navy’s design team to be closer to the senior staff of Old Navy will help in that regard.

In total, there is said to be about 450 people working at Gap Inc. design offices here at 45 West 16th Street. They’re involved in product development for Old Navy, Gap and Banana Republic.

Harriss will step into her new role on May 2 and oversee all aspects of the Gap brand in North America, including Gap Adult, GapKids, babyGap and GapBody. She will report to Gap Inc. president and chief executive Paul Pressler and continue to serve on the executive leadership team.

“Through her 30 years of retail experience, Cynthia has demonstrated that she is a strong operator and merchant, as well as an exceptional leader with a track record of inspiring and developing great teams,” Pressler said in a statement.

The position of Gap Brand president has been vacant since last September, when Gary Muto was reassigned as president for an upcoming yet-to-be-named division targeting consumers 35 years of age and older. It was important that the company fill the void before Thursday, when it will hold a big analyst presentation in San Francisco, to present a more complete management team. Sources said that a few weeks ago, another candidate decided against taking the job at the last minute.Before joining Gap, Harriss was president of the Disneyland Resort division of The Walt Disney Co., and served as senior vice president of stores for The Disney Store. Earlier, she spent 19 years with Paul Harris Stores in merchandising and operational capacities, including vice president and general merchandise manager, and senior vice president of stores. 

Neal, 48, had been senior vice president of merchandising for the outlet division. She will also report to Pressler and serve on the executive leadership team. She joined Gap in October 2004 from Mervyn’s, where she was president for three years. Earlier, she was an executive at Target Corp.

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