By  on June 21, 2010

The Bronx gave birth to two of the biggest names in American fashion in Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein—and now it may be time to add a third: Emanuel Chirico.

Who?

He may not be quite the household name of his Bronx brethren, but Chirico—who goes by Manny— captains an apparel company, Phillips-Van Heusen, that is fast becoming one of the largest in the world, owning Calvin Klein and now Tommy Hilfiger, which it officially acquired on May 6. The deal doubled the size of PVH—which, for most of its 130-year history, was a respected but sedate shirtmaker—and catapulted it into the first ranks of modern, global fashion firms.

“There must be something in the water,” says Chirico, chairman and chief executive officer of PVH, of his outer-borough origins. “I have to pinch myself every once in a while. I find it amazing that I’m running two of the most iconic brands in fashion.”

Including licenses, those brands ring up massive sums at retail, with Calvin Klein—which PVH acquired in 2003—bringing in about $5.8 billion, and Tommy Hilfiger, $4.5 billion. And while those two labels represent the highest-profile elements of PVH, the heritage businesses are important moneymakers, as well. The company is the largest dress shirt manufacturer in the world, commanding a more than 45 percent market share in the department store channel with owned and licensed brands such as Geoffrey Beene, Arrow, Nautica and DKNY.

In neckwear, PVH’s dominance is even greater, as it makes 50 percent of all ties sold in the U.S. under a portfolio of more than 50 owned and licensed brands. The company also owns the Izod sportswear brand and markets Timberland sportswear under license. PVH’s retail business includes about 650 outlets for its Calvin Klein, Izod, Bass and Van Heusen brands.

Including Tommy Hilfiger, PVH’s total 2010 revenue is forecast at $4.8 billion, with earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of close to $800 million.

Chirico, a former college basketball player and boxer, may seem an unlikely fashion enthusiast, but he gravitated toward the industry early in his career as an accountant at Ernst & Young. He ended up heading that firm’s retail and apparel practice before being recruited by PVH, one of his clients, to become its controller.

“I’ve always been interested in the fashion industry because it’s fast and exciting, and I love the dynamic of the business,” says Chirico, 53. “You can make changes relatively quickly compared to other industries. If you can get the right product and design into the marketplace, you can effect change within months. In something like the auto industry, it would take years.”

Chirico, who has a grounded and approachable demeanor, was born in 1957 to a homemaker mother and a father who was a crane operator on construction sites. His parents sent him to a prestigious Catholic high school in the Bronx, Cardinal Spellman. Among his schoolmates was a notable young woman: future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “She was three years ahead of me. I remember her because I played basketball with her brother, who’s now a doctor,” Chirico recalls. “She was president of the student body. Even back then she was the smartest person in the room.”

Planning on becoming a dentist, Chirico went on to Fordham University, but orthodontics wasn’t in the cards for him. “That idea lasted for one biology course,” he admits. “So I took some accounting courses. I was getting married and needed something stable.”

After graduating, Chirico joined Ernst & Young and ended up staying for 14 years. In 1993, he jumped to PVH, and in 1999, he was promoted to chief financial officer. In 2005, he became president and chief operating officer when ceo Bruce Klatsky retired and Mark Weber, the previous president and chief operating officer, was appointed to the top job. However, in a surprise move eight months later, Weber was removed from the ceo position by PVH’s board, and Chirico was elevated to the role—much sooner than he or anyone else at the company would have predicted.

“It’s not the way I wanted to get this job,” said Chirico at the time. “It was a big surprise, and this isn’t a company that delivers surprises.” (Weber is now chairman and ceo of Donna Karan Inc. and ceo of LVMH Inc. U.S.)

Klatsky, who is now a partner at White Plains, N.Y.–based private equity firm LNK Partners, says Chirico was long viewed by the PVH board as a ceo-in-waiting. “That succession was planned. Mark, Manny and I were a triumvirate while I was ceo,” he explains. “Manny has tremendous financial acumen, and he also has a tremendous set of personal values that were very important to the culture of PVH.”

Klatsky adds that, while Chirico is at heart a numbers person, he also has a firm grasp of other disciplines vital to the fashion business. “Manny is a financially oriented fellow, but he has the ability to relate to the marketing folks. It’s not very often you find a talented financial executive who respects and understands that function so well,” says Klatsky, who spent 35 years at PVH and engineered the Calvin Klein acquisition. (LNK Partners helped finance part of PVH’s acquisition of Tommy Hilfiger, but Klatsky, who hasn’t had an active role in the equity firm for several years, was not involved in the deal.)

Chirico, for his part, calls Klatsky a key mentor. “He’s the one who really helped me with my management style and opened my eyes to the possibilities of my own career,” says Chirico. “I always thought of myself as a financial manager, and he broadened my own ideas of what I could do and manage.”

In one of his non-PVH roles, Chirico—who is an enthusiastic golfer, despite his admitted “above 20” handicap—sits on the board of the $4.41 billion Dick’s Sporting Goods chain. He’s also a trustee of Fordham University and a board member of the HealthCare Chaplaincy, a nonprofit organization that provides chaplains to hospitals and education on the impact of spirituality on health care.

 

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