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CEO Forte Resigns from Zale’s

One of the most influential figures in the jewelry industry, Mary L. Forte, resigned on Monday as president and chief executive officer of Zale Corp. because of lagging financial returns.

NEW YORK — One of the most influential figures in the jewelry industry, Mary L. Forte, resigned on Monday as president and chief executive officer of Zale Corp. because of lagging financial returns.

“The…board was satisfied with where the business was headed, but after three years with Mary as ceo, [the company] was disappointed that the progress at this point had not turned into financial performance,” said David H. Sternbllitz, vice president and treasurer of Zale Corp. “We want someone with focus on the long term as well as short term. The strategy is on track and will continue to evolve.”

Betsy Burton, former ceo of Supercuts Inc., PIP Printing and Cosmetic Center Inc., has been named interim ceo until a successor is chosen. Burton, who has a reputation as a turnaround specialist, has been on the Zale board since 2003 and is also on the boards of Staples, Aéropostale and Rent-A-Center.

Under Forte’s leadership, Zale’s strategy changed from a middle market American jewelry brand to a fashion-forward retailer, with the “Be Brilliant” advertising campaign implemented in November.

In the year ended July 31, Zale earned $106.7 million, or $2.05 a diluted share, compared with $106.5 million, or $1.99, in the prior year.

Zales shares closed on Monday at $24.63, down 22 cents, in New York Stock Exchange trading.

Diamond Trading Co. siteholder and jewelry firm Rosy Blue Fine Inc. is one of Zale’s biggest vendors.

“We’ve been working with Zale’s for 20 years and with many new ideas in this difficult environment, not everything could have been implemented,” said Dipu Mehta, president and ceo of Rosy Blue. “We will continue to work very successfully with [the company] and continue to support the corporation as long as possible. Mary was an extraordinary ceo and person and we wish the best for her in the future.”

Forte, who was also a board member, could not be reached for comment.

She was named ceo in 2003 and in her 11 years with the company held various positions, including chief administrative officer, chief merchandise officer and president of its Gordon’s division.

This story first appeared in the January 31, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.