By  on April 14, 2006

NEW YORK — In the midst of Revlon's retail rollout of its two boldest initiatives in a decade — Vital Radiance and the revamped Almay — Paul Murphy said he will step down from his post as executive vice president of North American Sales.

Following a brief transition period, he will be replaced by Karl Obrecht, Revlon's current senior vice president of Mass Volume Retailers. Obrecht will report to Revlon president and chief executive officer Jack Stahl.

Stahl, a former Coca-Cola executive, recruited Murphy, known as "Murph," from the beverage company in 2003 to aid in the company's turnaround strategy. Murphy's mission: to repair soured relationships with Revlon's retail customers.

Murphy pulled back the frequency of Revlon's promotional displays, which retailers had complained were hard to manage, and focused the company's efforts on improving its core competencies.

In an interview with WWD last November, Murphy recalled when he first joined Revlon three years ago: "Revlon made some promises and asked retailers to work with the company through the next couple of years. The company promised to invest in ingenuity to get this category growing again."

The launch of Vital Radiance and the relaunch of Almay are the beauty firm's most ambitious efforts to reignite category growth. Both initiatives are designed to reinvent how women shop for cosmetics in the mass channel by grouping products into color collections and regimens.

"Murph has contributed greatly to Revlon's success by strengthening our sales and customer marketing organization and demonstrating our dedication to partnering with customers," Stahl said in a statement released Thursday.

Industry watchers were baffled by the news, particularly in light of Revlon's aggressive plans for 2006.

"It's seems like an odd time to be making a change," said Bill Chappell, an analyst with SunTrust Robinson Humphrey Capital Market, adding Murphy was likely instrumental in securing retail space for Vital Radiance and Almay.

A company spokeswoman said the rollout of Vital Radiance and Almay is on track, and is expected to be completed by the end of the month. She added Murphy's departure was not related to Revlon's recent realignment of its marketing group, which included trimming 165 jobs worldwide. A beauty buyer for a national drugstore chain said that the realignment — which consolidated customer marketing, previously considered a sales funcation, with Revlon's brand marketing group — "dismantled everything Paul did."Prior to his tenure at Revlon and Coca-Cola, Murphy worked at Procter & Gamble.

"I am proud of the strong retail organization now in place to build on Revlon's success in the marketplace," Murphy said in a statement. "I am looking forward to new career experiences and I am confident that Karl will take the organization to the next level."

Murphy plans to attend the National Association of Chain Drug Stores' annual meeting, scheduled to take place in Palm Beach, Fla., April 28 through May 3.

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