Julian Geiger, the only chief executive officer in the history of Aéropostale Inc. and the chief architect of the growth and success of the teen retailer, will step down from his post at the end of the company’s current fiscal year on Jan. 31.

This story first appeared in the September 25, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Geiger, who has been ceo of the specialty store chain since 1996, will continue to serve as chairman. He will be succeeded by two of the firm’s existing managers, Mindy Meads and Thomas Johnson, who will serve as co-ceo’s upon Geiger’s departure. On the same date, Michael J. Cunningham will be elevated to president and chief financial officer.

In an exclusive interview with WWD, Geiger said: “I have the mind of a 19-year-old in the body of a 64-year-old man.”

Turning serious, he said Thursday’s announcement was something “we’ve worked very diligently toward for the past two to five years. A sign of a good leader is one who develops an organization that transcends his tenure. And at Aéropostale, we’ve developed an organization that is self-propelled.”

He said the first step toward the transition came in 2002 when Johnson joined the firm, followed by Cunningham’s appointment two years later, after the company’s initial public offering. “And then luring Mindy three years ago really gave me the luxury to inculcate in them the culture, approach and what makes Aéro tick,” he said.

Geiger said he had worked with Meads at Macy’s in 1982, and although she had not been part of the Aéropostale team before, “when she came here, it was like she was coming home because she recognized the culture.”

As chairman, Geiger said he will “take a little step back” and look objectively at the business. “I’m stepping down as ceo, but I’m not turning my back on the business,” he said, noting he will retain an office and will be available for counsel.

He noted he has no plans to start another retail chain. “I have no such intentions,” he said. “When you love an organization, it’s hard to go anyplace else.”

Aéropostale started as a private label men’s brand within Macy’s in 1982, opened its first freestanding store in 1987, was sold to Geiger and a management team in 1998 and went public in 2002. Geiger said the company is on track to achieve its 12th consecutive year of comparable-store sales increases and 11 straight years of record-breaking earnings. “And this December, we will sell our 1 billionth unit. So we’re like McDonald’s: We can say, ‘1 billion served.’”

In 1999 and 2000, the chain’s sales increased a total of about 50 percent, to $213.4 million, and last year vaulted 18.5 percent to $1.89 billion on an 8 percent comp increase. Meanwhile, net income, $11.4 million in 2000, reached $149.4 million last year, 15.7 percent above the prior year.

Shares Thursday closed at $43.20, down 37 cents, or 0.9 percent. They were priced at $18 for the firm’s IPO. Adjusting for splits and dividends, a dollar invested in 2002 would have generated nearly $4 today.

Meads has been president and chief merchandising officer of Aéropostale since March 2007. Prior to that, she was president and ceo of Victoria’s Secret Direct, a division of Limited Brands Inc. She was also ceo of Lands’ End and has been with Gymboree Corp.

Johnson has been executive vice president and chief operating officer of Aéropostale since March 2004. Before that, he was the company’s director of stores. He also has been with David’s Bridal and Brooks Brothers. Cunningham has been executive vice president and cfo of Aéropostale since March 2004.

In the second quarter, the company posted an 83.3 percent jump in profits to $38.6 million, or 57 cents a share, versus $21.1 million, or 31 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter. Net sales increased 20.7 percent to $861 million from $713.5 million, as quarterly comps grew 12 percent. In August, the company’s same-store sales rose 9 percent.

Aéropostale operates 891 stores in 49 states and Puerto Rico, 39 units in Canada and nine P.S. From Aéropostale children’s stores in two states. In an interview with WWD just prior to the firm’s IPO, Geiger set a goal of a 900-unit chain.

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