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Pressler Takes ‘Zero’ Credit for Success

GROVEPORT, Ohio — Presiding over his first Gap Inc. annual shareholders’ meeting Wednesday, president and chief executive Paul Pressler praised the retailer’s team and turnaround efforts, citing improvements in profits and sales last...

GROVEPORT, Ohio — Presiding over his first Gap Inc. annual shareholders’ meeting Wednesday, president and chief executive Paul Pressler praised the retailer’s team and turnaround efforts, citing improvements in profits and sales last quarter, with Old Navy leading the revenue gains.

“We have a tremendous organization with extreme talent,” said Pressler, who left a 15-year career with Disney to join Gap Inc. in September and has since brought four former Disney executives on board. “The depth of talent is the key to the success that we’re seeing.”

After the meeting, Pressler was asked how much credit he should take for company’s progress, and he replied, “Zero.”

There was little fanfare or controversy at the meeting, held in Gap’s new Fulfillment Center here. It lasted about 30 minutes and drew about 60 staff members and shareholders.

Pressler pointed to profits of 54 cents a diluted share at the close of fiscal year 2002 versus less than a penny a share the year before as a key indicator the retailer, parent of Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy brands, is moving forward.

Sales figures announced last week anticipated first-quarter earnings per share of 19 cents to 22 cents, with all brands in positive sales territory, versus negative comp-store sales in 2002. Final first-quarter results are expected to be announced today, though comps for the first quarter were reported by division Wednesday. Old Navy was up 16 percent; Gap U.S., 12 percent;?Gap International, 13 percent, and Banana Republic, 1 percent.

Pressler said Gap brand’s current goal is “getting the product right” and cited a “very positive consumer response” to its ongoing advertising campaign, which highlights a return to classic styles and a move away from trendy, youth-oriented apparel.

Old Navy, he said, is pursuing a more targeted brand positioning. Pressler said the value and youth-oriented brand’s turnaround is the farthest along in the company. April sales saw 20 percent comp gains, against a 27 percent decline last year. Following the showing of Old Navy’s first summer campaign TV spot, a “Love Boat”-themed item-of-the-week promotion that starts airing today, Pressler joked, “I’m not sure if those commercials make me feel young or old.”

Pressler said Banana Republic is continuing to concentrate on differentiating its product lines and is undertaking an internal search for a new Banana president. As reported, former Banana president Maureen Chiquet this month was tapped by Chanel Inc. to succeed Arie Kopelman as president. Pressler also said the company is seeking a head of international operations for Banana.

“We know that we must first create a more solid foundation,” Pressler said in his brief presentation, referring to the fiscal strength of the company. “We need to earn our way back to growth.”

The formal portion of the meeting — to elect board members, choose an audit firm and adjust the company’s stock option plan — concluded in 10 minutes. Only two shareholders spoke up during the meeting. One was John Schlagheck, a Toledo, Ohio-based representative of Sheet Metal Workers Local Union No. 33, which owns 456 shares in the company. Schlagheck read a statement requesting Gap Inc. report stock options issued to employees as expenses to provide more accurate financial data to shareholders. Shareholders had already defeated by proxy the proposal to expense options.

Another shareholder drew laughter by pointing out Gap’s practice of placing merchandise for shorter customers high, near the top of fixtures. Pressler replied the brand is looking into a more logical merchandise display.