By  on November 23, 2004

NEW YORK — Gordon Brothers Group named Mark J. Schwartz chief executive officer, as the company evolves from a liquidator to more of a merchant bank.

Schwartz succeeds Michael G. Frieze, who will continue as chairman.

Schwartz, 47, who joined the 101-year-old firm two years ago, will retain the title of president. Since joining GB, Schwartz has worked on expanding the company’s equity and lending operations. Under Schwartz, the firm, better known for liquidating assets and excess inventory, has evolved into a company resembling a merchant bank.

“People look at our history as a liquidation expert, but in the last 10 years, we’ve been anything but a liquidator. While we still do store closings, one of the reasons Mark is taking over as ceo is to continue our [focus] in being more of a problem solver in providing investments and loans to firms and in developing stronger relationships with successful retailers,” said Frieze, who has served as ceo since 1984.

For Schwartz, the last two years have been a whirlwind of activity.

“I’ve been extremely busy, traveling from New York to Boston and back. Last week I was in Canada. We’ve made six acquisitions at a pretty aggressive pace since I joined,” Schwartz said.

In addition to the acquisitions through GB Palladin, the firm’s private equity arm, GB has been busy working on loan originations and in taking a more active role in distressed investing. Also playing a bigger role in its operations is the expansion of GB’s advisory services, in which the firm’s experts help companies fine-tune their operations in areas such as improving inventory turns or generating higher margin rates.

“There’s been no time to relax. I need to figure out how to schedule that into my time,” said the married father of two sons.

“The problem is that, as we grow these companies that we’ve invested in, we need to put a group of GB experts in place to monitor the firms, and right now, I seem to be on every team. I’m working on realigning our resources within GB to devote the right time and effort to each project,” Schwartz said.Once that’s done, he expects to spend at least half of his time on strategic issues concerning GB’s expansion. Looking for new investments will be a part of that, but he’ll also be keeping an eye on new opportunities and product areas for GB’s continued growth.

Frieze said he and Schwartz began discussions more than three years ago about the future direction of GB, and agreed that Schwartz would use the first two years to learn all aspects of GB’s business before taking on the full role of ceo.

Schwartz, whose mother was a buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue, began his retailing career as a sales associate at Saks before moving to the financial side of the business. “For me, retail is always a challenge. It’s a lot of fun,” he said.

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