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NEW YORK — Peter Rizzo, president of Bergdorf Goodman, resigned Thursday, after a 3 1/2 year stint where he was instrumental in modernizing and broadening the store’s appeal despite his sometimes strained relationship with management.
This story first appeared in the September 13, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Rizzo said Thursday he plans to take some time off before actively seeking a new position.
Known for his aggressive management style, strong viewpoints and impeccable taste, Rizzo also served as the store’s chief merchant, and filled the role of women’s ready-to-wear general merchandise manager, even though his background was primarily as a men’s wear merchant. He made his mark at Barneys New York, where he worked from 1978 to 1996, emerging as one of the sharpest men’s merchants in American specialty retailing. In 1997, he became president of Polo Ralph Lauren Retail Corp., and in 1999 joined Bergdorf’s.
Bergdorf’s is planning to search for a new women’s general merchandise manager, but has decided not to fill the role of president. In the meantime, Ron Frasch, Bergdorf’s chairman and chief executive officer, will take over Rizzo’s duties.
Rizzo had some rocky moments at Bergdorf’s almost from the day he joined the store in April 1999. His appointment, initially as vice chairman, seemed to trigger a number of senior-level departures over a couple of seasons. However, after a few months on the job, he was elevated to president, succeeding Dawn Mello, and he was a contender for the ceo job when it became vacant. He made it clear he wanted the job, but the parent company Neiman Marcus Group choose Frasch who, unlike Rizzo, had experience running companies as a former GFT USA president and a former Escada USA president. Earlier, Frasch also served as an executive vice president at Neiman Marcus which, like Bergdorf Goodman, is a division of the Neiman Marcus Group.
Bergdorf’s business has been tough lately, hard hit by the lack of tourists to New York since 9/11 and the decline in the luxury market. For the fiscal year ended last July, sales were $280 million, down from over $300 million the year before.
The store’s difficulties may have contributed to Rizzo’s departure and added to management tensions. With Frasch at the helm, and Rizzo right behind, it seemed like a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. Nevertheless, Rizzo played a pivotal role in broadening the appeal and modernizing Bergdorf Goodman with younger, more modern designer lines; expanding a very evening-oriented fine apparel business with more day looks, and reorganizing the selling floors for a sharper focus, in both the men’s and women’s stores. He also was instrumental in launching new marketing campaigns, including two years ago, the Bergdorf Goodman magazine, a magalog that primarily serves to drive traffic to the store, and in customer relationship marketing, known as CRM. Rizzo did get such labels as Roberto Cavalli, Istevan Francer, and Costume Nationale, as well as various Italian artisan designers. He also got Romeo Gigli to resume selling Bergdorf’s after a hiatus with the store. Generally, some observers believe Rizzo helped make the store more competitive with Barneys, his former employer.
“Rizzo was an important part of the team,” Frasch said. “He played a strong role in energizing the product offering, and had high creative and visual standards. We are pretty close to where we want to be. There will be ongoing additions and changes, but the core of the store is pretty well set,” Frasch said.
All the top merchants reported to Rizzo, as did the fashion office, the visual organization, and the creative aspects of marketing. They will report to Frasch now, who continues to have operations, financial, the non-creative marketing functions, human resources and planning reporting to him.
“We will be reinitiating our search for a ready-to-wear general merchandise manager,” Frasch said. “We’ve searched on and off over the last couple of years. At this point, I will assume Peter’s responsibilities.”
Frasch said he would not utilize a search firm to find another rtw gmm.
On Thursday, Rizzo said, “I had a long talk with Ron. We both felt the company had two ceo’s.”
While there was some speculation that Rizzo was asked to resign, he denied that was the case. “It was most definitely my decision. There was no need to nudge. Ron and I had a very good relationship together, but it was one store with two ceo’s.”
As far as hiring a new president, “They don’t need it,” Rizzo said, agreeing with Frasch’s decision not to seek one.
“For the last six to nine months, I’ve really been pondering this thing,” Rizzo said. “Ron and I have been friends for a lot of years and I have enjoyed the last 3 1/2 years. When I was originally hired, the management back then really didn’t have an understanding of contemporary and modernist apparel and accessories, and there was a limited view in fine apparel skewed to an older, more established evening business.”
Rizzo said that with the store reshaping its image, “I’ve got to the point where I can’t do any more.”
The 50-year-old Rizzo said he does not have a new job and plans to spend time at his vacation home in Vero Beach, Fla. “In the last 24 years that I have been working, I haven’t taken more than one week off at a time. I love what I do. I’m very proud of the accomplishments at Bergdorf Goodman. I love the way the store looks.”
Months ago, there was a published report that Rizzo was headed to Brooks Brothers. However, officials at Brooks have stated that Rizzo is not being considered for a job there.