NEW YORK — Two of the highest-profile fashion stores in America named their new leaders Thursday.
In an appointment that was highly anticipated, Neiman Marcus named Burton Tansky its chairman and chief executive officer. Somewhat less expected was the announcement that Stephen C. Elkin would be the new chairman and ceo of Bergdorf Goodman and that Dawn Mello was returning to BG as its president.
Both stores are part of the Neiman Marcus Group and all appointments are effective May 1.
Tansky, currently chairman and ceo of Bergdorf’s, will succeed Terry Lundgren, who joined Federated Merchandising Service on April 5. His appointment confirms reports in WWD.
Mello, currently creative director of Guccio Gucci SpA, was Bergdorf’s president from 1983 until 1989, when she joined Gucci.
Elkin, current president and chief operating officer of Bergdorf’s, will succeed Tansky as chairman and ceo.
In a telephone interview from Gucci’s Florence headquarters Thursday, Mello said she sees her new job at Bergdorf’s as quite different from the old one.
“I will have the merchandising organization reporting to me, as well as fashion and all the creative aspects of sales promotion,” she said.
Mello said she does not see any conflict between her new role and that of Ellin Saltzman, Bergdorf’s senior vice president and fashion director. Saltzman, said Mello, was the first person to call with congratulations. “Ellin is fashion director, she’s very able and my job is not the fashion director,” said Mello.
As for the table of organization that has her reporting to Elkin, Mello said she has no problem reporting to an operations executive.
“I’ve always worked for somebody else,” she said.
A Gucci spokesman said a replacement for Mello has not been named.
Elkin, who reports to Robert J. Tarr, president and chief executive officer of Harcourt General and its Neiman Marcus Group division, will be responsible for operations and administration. He said he will continue to be involved in merchandise planning and managing the flow of goods, as well, but added, “As far as the procurement of merchandise, I will essentially rely on the executives. I do not expect to be picking merchandise, but I am interested in relationships with resources, working with them to develop opportunities for us. I’ve been involved with that in the past, but I may be a little more visible now.”
As for consolidating back office areas at Bergdorf’s and Neiman’s, he said, “We will continue to examine operating areas transparent to the customer — to enjoy the economies of scale and synergies.”
The catalog fulfillment areas and parts of the credit departments have already been merged, but such areas as catalog creation, MIS, accounting and advertising are still separate. Elkin said, however, that the merchandising, sales promotions and administration of stores would remain separate.
“These are two separate businesses with distinctive points of view,” Elkin said.
Tansky said Elkin has “a great deal of knowledge of the merchandising side, and has aggressively installed new systems and worked closely with merchandisers to help them run their businesses more effectively and understand what kind of information they need to analyze sales and replenishment stock.” He is considered Bergdorf’s troubleshooter.
Tansky, 56, a hard-working, hands-on merchant, will attempt to lead Neiman’s through a period of growth, including three store openings in the next two years, while maintaining its high-end fashion appeal.
Tansky joined Bergdorf’s in 1990 as vice chairman and was named chairman and ceo in 1992. Before joining Bergdorf’s, he was president of Saks Fifth Avenue for 10 years.
Elkin, 51, joined Bergdorf’s in 1978 as senior vice president and chief financial officer. In 1980, he was named executive vice president of finance and operations and became vice chairman and chief operating officer in 1985. In 1990, he was named president, retaining his duties as chief operations officer.
Mello joined Bergdorf’s in 1975 as vice president and fashion director. Five years later, she became executive vice president of image and merchandising direction and was promoted to president in 1983, becoming one of the most respected fashion merchandisers in the country. She was known for being able to spot new design talent and her merchandising acumen — teamed with that of Ira Neimark, then BG’s chairman — not only kept the store in the forefront of designer fashion, but turned it into a destination point for shoppers from all over the world.
When she left Bergdorf, she said she was interested in working “on an international scale.” Gucci then had about 60 stores worldwide.
“I am also interested in the development of product and this gives me the opportunity to try my hand,” she said then.
Retail sources characterized the appointments as safe ones and expect smooth change-of-commands at both stores. They noted that both Elkin and Mello have track records at Bergdorf’s, and that they have worked together at the store. In addition, they cited Tansky’s vast experience in high-end specialty retailing, which should help Neiman’s maintain its course.
“Burt is so steeped in the better apparel business, that means he will carry on the Neiman’s attitude without a blip and keep it focused on the upper part of the women’s apparel business,” said Herbert Mines, the executive search consultant, who with his associate Elaine Gilbert, handled the Neiman’s ceo search. “Burt is a throwback to the wonderful days when ceos would feel and touch products,” said Mines. “He’s a good picker and has wonderful relationships with designers and upscale vendors. This should be a seamless transition. He can be demanding, but he remains cool.”
Elkin, described by one retail source as “a buttoned-up, well-trained executive groomed by Ira Neimark,” reportedly has long wanted the ceo job at Bergdorf’s. He was said to be disappointed when Tansky was chosen over him to succeed Neimark in 1992.
Tarr said in a statement that Tansky will guide a “very strong management team in place at Neiman’s.”
“There were a number of outstanding candidates for Neiman’s,” said Mines. “But there was not enough of a difference [in skills] to warrant going to the outside.”
Sources said Elkin and Mello were the only serious candidates for the Bergdorf jobs. Reportedly, it was Tarr who initially determined that Mello should be Bergdorf’s president.
“It’s a very, very exciting opportunity,” Tansky said, adding that one of his objectives is “to keep up the momentum of a successful company.”
“My feeling is that the growth opportunities are virtually unlimited,” he added.
He said the $1.4 billion chain could easily surpass the $2 billion mark by entering new markets. He did not say which ones.
New Neiman Marcus stores are opening in Short Hills, N.J., in August 1995; King of Prussia, Pa., in March 1996, and Paramus, N.J., in August 1996.
The chain currently operates 28 stores in 24 markets.
Upon his appointment Thursday, Neiman’s presented Tansky with a Stetson hat.
“I think I will find Dallas is a very nice place to live,” he said.”