NEW YORK — The president of the Ann Taylor division of Ann Taylor Stores Corp., Kim Roy, resigned Thursday, leaving unfilled her mission to turn around the long-struggling women’s chain.

The company said Roy resigned "for personal reasons." The decision was surprising, considering she was continuing to build the team as recently as about a month ago, when she hired some new executives, including a designer. However, there has been speculation that Roy never felt comfortable with the culture at Ann Taylor, which is led by chairman J. Patrick Spainhour. She joined Ann Taylor in May 2001, after serving as head of several divisions at Liz Claiborne.

Ann Taylor has begun a search for Roy’s successor. Sources were speculating that Kay Krill, president of the Loft division, would be the top candidate to fill the slot.

Roy and Spainhour were unavailable for comment, though Spainhour said in a statement: "Kim did much to reassert within our Ann Taylor division a renewed focus on our brand’s core attributes and competencies in classic career apparel and polished casual apparel and accessories. We wish her well as she pursues new projects and interests. Until a replacement is found, Ann Taylor division merchandising and design will report directly to me."

One source said, "She’s a very performance-driven executive and not used to a lot of ‘soft and fuzzies.’ Spainhour is a finance guy, but he really sees his role as a mission to make a difference in the lives of women. The transition was hard for her."

For the past few years, the Ann Taylor division has been on a roller coaster, lacking the steady performance and growth potential of its sister division, Loft. In December’s comparable-store sales, for example, Ann Taylor comped down 19.1 percent, well short of expectations, compared with Loft’s 4.1 percent decrease. AT’s comps were affected by a significant decline in non-full-price sales, which more than offset an approximate 16 percent increase in full-price sales. Full-price inventory levels were also up more than 20 percent from a year ago. From a product perspective, weak performance in separates and woven tops was partially offset by better performance in full-price sweaters, suits and dresses.In November, the gap was less, as AT comped down 11.7 percent, while Loft’s comps decreased 7.6 percent.

However, Ann Taylor got its groove back in the spring with improved merchandise assortments, and the formula extended into the fall as it reported late that third-quarter profits more than doubled.

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