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NEW YORK — Bergdorf Goodman may be a $350 million luxury machine on a roll, but that doesn’t mean James Gold, its new president and chief executive officer, won’t have his work cut out for him.
On Monday, the Neiman Marcus Group Inc. promoted Gold from senior vice president and general merchandise manager for men’s wear and cosmetics at Neiman Marcus Stores, to run its Bergdorf’s division.
Sustaining the store’s momentum — sales in its second fiscal quarter ended Jan. 31 shot up 20.5 percent — and keeping its successful team in place will be no small feat. In addition, while Gold has been with Bergdorf’s sister division Neiman Marcus Stores for 13 years, and has a range of experience in operating and merchant roles, he still has a lot to learn. The divisions have little merchandise overlap, with estimates of roughly 25 percent, and different customer profiles.
It’s been speculated for months that Neiman’s would tap an insider. No search firm was ever hired to find a Bergdorf’s head, and it is the style of Burt Tansky, president and ceo of Neiman Marcus Group, to promote from inside. He’s brought other key executives up the ranks, including Karen Katz, president and ceo of Neiman Marcus Stores, and Brendan Hoffman, president and ceo of Neiman Marcus Direct.
During his tenure with Neiman’s, Gold has held such positions as vice president, divisional merchandise manager of designer sportswear and vice president, and director of the Last Call clearance stores. Gold, a 40-year-old native New Yorker, has an MBA from The Harvard Business School. He entered the training program of Bloomingdale’s after college and worked there as an assistant buyer and department manager before going on to business school.
Gold will report to Tansky, who is expected to give him much support. “Jim has been a key member of our team at the Neiman Marcus Stores division. His commitment to fashion leadership and innovative marketing has contributed significantly to our company’s success,” Tansky said in a statement. “I am confident that with Jim’s strong management skills, merchandising expertise and strategic insight, he will continue Bergdorf Goodman’s tradition of leadership in luxury retailing.”
The statement further read that Neiman Marcus Stores will announce Gold’s successor shortly.
Gold succeeds Ron Frasch, who joined Saks Inc. four months ago in a position involving private label and international development. Frasch’s role so far at Saks has been limited due to non-compete restrictions that were in his Bergdorf’s contract, but his duties are expected to change over time.
Frasch also functioned as the lead women’s merchant during his nearly four-year tenure at Bergdorf’s. And while retail sources describe Gold as smart, confident and a good business operator, it’s likely that he’ll seek a new women’s merchant. In addition to operating without a women’s gmm, Bergdorf’s is seeking a senior marketing executive since the departure of Michael Calman earlier this year.
Though few additional Bergdorf’s personnel changes are expected, Gold declined to comment Monday on any that might occur, including hiring a women’s merchant. “It’s premature to say. It’s my first day. The team in place has done a remarkable job,” Gold told WWD.
“I’m lucky to assume responsibility for an extraordinary business that’s in great shape,” he added. “The trend is very strong and we have great people working here. The team in place deserves tremendous credit for shaping Bergdorf Goodman into the success that it is today.”
“He’s got two big learning curves,” said a fashion executive, who requested anonymity. “He’s got to develop a fashion sense for Bergdorf’s and learn the business, which is very different from Neiman’s. Also, there’s a huge leap in responsibility from being a gmm to being a ceo. When you are a gmm, you run the product side of the business. You are not integrating all the aspects of a business, like people development, and developing a broad vision for the entire company.”
However, as one human resource executive noted, being ceo of Bergdorf’s is not like any other retail ceo. “It’s a plum job,” the executive said. “It’s primarily about being a merchant. You don’t have finance, accounting, or a fleet of stores to worry about.” Many of the back-office functions at Bergdorf Goodman have long been centralized into Neiman Marcus Group operations, based in Dallas.
Asked whether he faces a steep learning curve, Gold replied, “I need to dive into the business, to get my hands around it and understand it before I make significant changes. This is a unique store in the most competitive market in the country. So there is a tremendous amount I need to learn, but I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity. We’ve got to stay on top and we will stay on top by continuing to have the greatest assortment and the best people. My job is to maintain the distance from the competition.”
Although there has been some turnover at Bergdorf’s over the last couple of years, including the departure of Peter Rizzo, who served as president and chief merchant, as well as Frasch, it is largely considered a smooth running ship, with the buying and selling organizations working in unison. “Keeping the team together will be a priority for Gold,” said a competitor. “It’s hard to replace people and they have been operating so well as a unit. You hear that from vendors.”
“The groundwork [at Bergdorf’s] is all laid,” said a retail executive from another company. “There are no gaping holes. Gold will be challenged to keep the buzz going at the level it’s been at, without compromising the fashion integrity for the sake of volume. It could be tempting to bring in businesses that maybe aren’t as special to the matrix that Bergdorf has developed.”
The store has a goal of attaining $400 million in sales, but hasn’t given a time frame for that.
Over the past five years, the retailer has filled a void in its product offering by adding advanced and contemporary merchandise to attract both a younger audience or those with younger attitudes. It has also developed new selling and marketing vehicles, such as the Bergdorf Goodman Magazine; added incentives for selling associates, and has a Web site under development for a fall 2004 launch.
Gold will also be dealing with the ongoing renovation of the Bergdorf’s women’s store, much of which has been complete, including the main floor for accessories and jewelry, the beauty floor on the lower level and the second floor for comprehensive designer shops selling ready-to-wear and accessories for Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. The shops are run by brand managers, a new level of management at the store.
Work on the fifth floor for contemporary products is expected to be under way shortly, and the fourth floor for Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, J. Mendel and Valentino, among others, has completed phase one of a three-part renovation.
While some luxury vendors in Manhattan greeted Gold’s appointment with surprise and skepticism — all off the record, of course — others praised Tansky’s pick and are confident of Gold’s skills, especially given his longtime Neiman Marcus experience.
“He seems to be good at what he does,” said Robert Duffy, vice chairman of Marc Jacobs International. “I’ve worked well with him in the past and have talked to him about placement, advertising and business in general. I talked to my sales team this morning and they are quite fond of him, especially our senior vice president of sales, Leslie Clements. She was very enthusiastic about him. This should be good. Aside from our own stores, Bergdorf’s is our biggest store and important to our business.”
Michele Ateyeh, president and chief operating officer at Lambertson Truex, a key main floor accessories resource at Bergdorf’s, said: “To me, cosmetics seems to be such a major and important business for all retailers that once an executive has tackled this area successfully, it would make sense that he or she will have a very fast learning curve in terms of new businesses, especially coming out of the Neiman Marcus upscale philosophy.”
“Jim is one of the brightest new stars in retailing,” said Kay Baker, president of Sisley’s U.S. operations in Dallas. “He does not miss a trick. He has a fresh set of eyes for every business he comes to.”
Baker added that Gold “inspires people that work for him. He’s hands off. He is not a micro manager, but he is a big picture visionary. Jim’s probably the most well-liked executive at Neiman Marcus. He will do a fantastic job at Bergdorf’s. He really understands the specialty business.”
Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, global president at Estée Lauder Cos. who is in charge of the Lauder, MAC Cosmetics and Tommy Hilfiger divisions, said, “Jim is an intuitive leader. He has a great eye for product and merchandise, which are essential attributes.”
Jewelry designer Stephen Dweck lauded the appointment’s timing, saying that it will help maintain Bergdorf’s current momentum. “Bergdorf Goodman is a very important business to me,” Dweck said. “When you take the sensibility of Neiman Marcus and mix it with that of Bergdorf Goodman, it’s the best possible scenario as long as the team stays intact. We have a strong divisional merchandise manager, a strong general merchandise manager and a very strong buyer. Most of them come from Neiman Marcus at this point. It’s a very healthy Burt Tansky team.”
— With contributions from WWD Staff