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Brooks Bros. Changes Command

<?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = CS /><CS:BOLD>NEW YORK -- Retail Brand Alliance has closed the deal to buy Brooks Bros. from Marks & Spencer and is moving fast on crucial decisions. Among them, Joseph Gromek, chairman and chief executive officer of...

NEW YORK — Retail Brand Alliance has closed the deal to buy Brooks Bros. from Marks & Spencer and is moving fast on crucial decisions. Among them, Joseph Gromek, chairman and chief executive officer of Brooks Bros., is leaving the company, and Claudio Del Vecchio, president and ceo of Retail Brand Alliance, will take the reins of the specialty chain, WWD has learned.

Gromek’s departure was widely expected. But Del Vecchio’s decision to personally take on the formidable challenge of rebuilding the underperforming Brooks Bros. wasn’t, considering his lack of experience in men’s wear. However, key members of his team do have men’s wear experience, including Mark Shulman, chief operating officer, and Eraldo Poletto, chief merchandising officer.

Also, Del Vecchio’s decision to step up to the task is very much his style of management. With each division of Retail Brand Alliance, he effectively serves as top gun without officially holding any divisional titles. The one exception is at Carolee, where founder Carolee Friedlander still runs the show.

“Claudio will always get involved. There are no presidents at the Casual Corner Group and no president for Vittadini,” said one source. “You will not see a president at Brooks Bros.” The company declined to comment Monday on Brooks Bros. Gromek is on vacation this week and could not be reached.

Retail Brand Alliance agreed last Thanksgiving Day to buy Brooks Bros. from M&S for $225 million in cash and closed the deal on Dec. 31.

To raise profit and revenues, Brooks Bros. must broaden its customer reach without abandoning its traditional clientele. Women’s apparel and accessories, outlets and overseas growth are also opportunities. Since Brooks Bros. is now private, fixing existing store units will likely take priority over rapid expansion. The chain had an operating profit of $30 million — which is small, considering the $661 million in volume last year.

In 1988, M&S paid Allied Stores $750 million for the chain.

In addition to Brooks Bros., Retail Brand Alliance, based in Enfield, Conn., operates Casual Corner, Petite Sophisticates, August Max and Adrienne Vittadini, as well as Carolee, purchased last July. Vittadini was added last February. Luxottica, the Italian eyewear firm controlled by Del Vecchio’s family, sold the Casual Corner, August Max and Petite Sophisticate women’s chains to Claudio Del Vecchio in 1997.