In a surprise shake-up at Saks Fifth Avenue, Marc Metrick on Thursday was named president, replacing Marigay McKee, who is leaving the company.

Metrick was executive vice president and chief administrative officer of the Hudson’s Bay Co. McKee was president of Saks Fifth Avenue for just 15 months, joining from Harrods in London.

This story first appeared in the April 3, 2015 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Unlike McKee, Metrick is not a merchant. But he takes the Saks reins as a former insider who understands its people and culture, having spent 15 years at the store before joining HBC three years ago. Current and former colleagues characterize Metrick as very analytical with a deep understanding of merchandise allocation and planning processes, data mining, financial controls, business development and marketing, though he has experience in merchandising. He is also very witty. Getting the right brands and the right amount of merchandise has been a challenge for Saks, which has a fleet of stores of varying sizes, demographics and merchandise needs around the country. Saks also competes most directly for brands against the stronger Neiman Marcus.

“Marc is really a fantastic guy,” Richard Baker, governor and executive chairman of Hudson’s Bay, told WWD. “He worked his way up at Saks for last 15 years and about three years ago we hired him and he has been a top part of our team. He was very involved in the process we went through to acquire Saks [two years ago] and has been very involved in the operations of the Saks business. We are excited to let him do his magic.”

McKee’s magic didn’t work, but sources said her early departure was less about how Saks was performing or the direction she was taking the business, and more about her management style. The flamboyant and often outspoken former Harrods chief merchant set out to reinvent Saks with greater aspirational and luxury product. Nobody doubted her taste level or sense of showmanship. She believed Saks had to be more experiential and distinctive and not just a landlord for brands. “Retail has always been about theater, excitement and fantasy,” she said last year.

Considering her short run, it’s unclear whether she was taking Saks in the right direction. “If anything, the strategy will only accelerate,” stressed Jerry Storch, chief executive officer of Hudson’s Bay Co. “We will continue to elevate the brand, continue with the significant investment in New York with the flagship store, continue with entry to Canada next and all the work on the digital paradigm.”

Metrick will report to Storch.

With McKee, “There was never a question of taste level or where she wanted to take the business. She is a very smart, talented lady,” said a source close to Saks. “Culture and fit were the challenge. They saw that almost from day one.”

“I’m sure she’s devastated, but this is probably a relief in the organization,” said another retail source.

“It just wasn’t a good fit,” admitted Baker, who was very involved in recruiting McKee. “Marigay brought great vision to the company and really helped upgrade our experience and move up our luxury platform. In the final analysis Marigay, Jerry and I really believed it was time for us all to do something different.”

Leadership was McKee’s Achilles heel. Her tenure saw a significant turnover of staff. “She was tough on talent,” said a source. “A lot of very good people, merchants and other functions, left. Stylistically, it just didn’t work.”

Another source said sometimes people would come out of meetings with McKee crying. She once acknowledged she’s been called crazy lots of times and that she doesn’t scare easily.

Among the departures were Jennifer De Winter, the retailer’s chief merchant, who joined Tiffany earlier this year. With McKee gone, effective Thursday, the door opens for attracting new talent. The search for the a new chief merchant has already begun. “A more comprehensive and detailed approach [to the search] will begin in full rigor tomorrow,” Metrick said. He also said he would immediately begin developing relationships with designers and vendors to give them a sense of “comfort” that Saks would “remain steadfast” in elevating the image.

“I’ve got to get out there and get to know them, so they could get to know me as well,” he said.

McKee had been spearheading a significant culling of vendors that generated little or no profit for the business, which did shake up the industry. She once called the Saks matrix of 2,227 brands “impossible,” and said merchants would cut 35 percent.

McKee was never one to mince words, and projected an aura of being both luminous and charming in public, and fierce and unfiltered in the office. When she joined Saks, she attracted lots of media attention with her rapid-fire, up-front and often refreshing observations about anything and everything — from the appeal of the Rockettes, which she hired for last year’s Christmas windows unveiling, to her Azzedine Alaïa outfits and the costs of massively upgrading the Saks flagship. She’s been candid and, by her own admission, “usually too honest for my own good.”

At Harrods, she headed up the beauty division and ascended to chief merchant, where she transformed the emporium into an international, au courant attraction. Between the cap and gloved doormen she stationed at the Saks flagship, and the Champagne bar she installed on the fifth floor, she did bring some showmanship to the setting with lots of visual changes.

She’s leaving without seeing the fruits of her labor or some big projects take root. The retailer’s owner Hudson’s Bay plans to spend $250 million for a thorough renovation of the Saks flagship, though some people familiar with previous renovations at the site believe it will cost more.

In an interview marking a year on the job, when asked what’s been the biggest surprise, McKee replied, “It hasn’t been the long hours — New York never sleeps. I get that. It wasn’t that the work is hard. It wasn’t the size of the pie. I definitely thought getting new brands would be among the toughest things, the brand matrix. But as a Brit coming to America, it’s the culture. Fitting into the culture. Having people understand you. Not second guessing. Trying to understand. How to best fit in. We speak the same language, but we are separated by an ocean and a different sense of humor.” The first year, she acknowledged, was “not as much fun,” but it was beginning to become fun, and that she believed she was understanding the culture and trying very hard on the job.

With Metrick on board, the atmosphere will change.

“Marc has a strong background,” said Steve Sadove, the former Saks chairman and ceo. “He knows the company and now there’s the opportunity to marry him and the skills he has with a new merchant.” Sadove noted Metrick’s skills would be complementary to those of a chief merchant. “Saks is extremely complicated and every store has a different matrix,” Sadove added. “Getting the right product to the right store, and having the right mix of ‘good, better, best’ is extremely complicated. Certainly, that’s a challenge for every retailer, but Marc has a good sense of it.”

Asked what his primary areas of responsibility will be, Metrick replied, “I will focus on everything from a customer-facing standpoint.”

Most recently, at HBC, Metrick developed corporate strategies for all of the company’s banners — Saks, Lord & Taylor and Hudson’s Bay — and sat on HBC’s executive committee.

Metrick has long been a key player on Baker’s team, playing an instrumental role in HBC’s 2013 acquisition of Saks for $2.9 billion and subsequently focusing with and McKee on developing the retailer’s strategic plan, which entails elevating the brand experience, building saksfifthavenue.com as part of a seamless all-channel offering; expanding the Saks store base in the U.S., as well as Canada beginning next year; and integrating Saks into the HBC business to realize more than $100 million in synergies. He joined HBC in 2012 as executive vice president and chief marketing officer, where he oversaw both the marketing and the e-commerce businesses for Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor.

Metrick spent the first 15 years of his career at Saks, rising to chief strategy officer. He began his career in Saks’ executive training program in 1995 before moving into senior roles in both merchandising and strategy.

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