For the turbulent retail and fashion industries, it’s been a particularly busy year of c-suite transition — and another wave of change looms.
At Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Fran Horowitz is being nurtured to succeed the 76-year-old Arthur Martinez who has had a long retail career, including serving as chief executive officer of Sears and Saks Fifth Avenue’s chief financial officer. John Mehas, president of Tory Burch, could step up to ceo if Roger Farah decides to leave, and Michelle Gass, chief merchandising and customer officer at Kohl’s Corp., is the leading candidate to one day succeed chairman and ceo Kevin Mansell.
At the J. Crew Group, succession is in the works, with the legendary chairman and ceo Millard “Mickey” Drexler stepping up efforts to determine the company’s next ceo. The two could work together, with Drexler shifting to executive chairman a possibility.
And what’s the future for L Brands, led by another industry legend, Leslie H. Wexner, who founded the business and propelled Victoria’s Secret, Pink and Bath & Body Works into superbrands? He’s 79 now, but shows no signs of leaving the business anytime soon. Sources say that with the sudden departure of Victoria’s Secret ceo Sharen Jester Turney in February, Wexner is as involved in the business as he’s ever been.
Corporate boards hunting for talent are bound to check out Maureen Chiquet, who formerly ran Chanel, and Glen Senk, who was president of David Yurman, and earlier ceo of Urban Outfitters. Other prospects include Jenny Ming of Charlotte Russe, Nick Coe of Bath & Body Works, James Brett of West Elm and earlier Urban Outfitters, Craig Leavitt of Kate Spade, Gary Muto of Ann Inc. brands and David McCreight of the Anthropologie Group.
Succession can be a sticky business, but there are ways to ease the process.
“In ceo succession planning, think and work far in advance — three to five years out,” advises Kirk Palmer of the executive search firm bearing his name. “Identify more than one possible internal candidate, but if you are light on internal ceo succession candidates, when you have a c-suite opening, use the opportunity to ‘over-hire’ that chief marketing officer or chief merchandising officer who has ceo potential.”
Palmer also advises, “Communicate openly with those in consideration and commit to teach them the skills they may lack, i.e., working with The Street or giving them exposure to operations, technology or finance. Teach and test candidates in fundamental areas where they lack experience. And once you designate a person, a shorter transition period is desirable.”
Perhaps the highest-profile, and one of the most orderly, succession stories is Macy’s Inc., where Terry J. Lundgren will step down in February as ceo after a long, successful run, and remain as executive chairman, handing the ceo reins over to Jeff Gennette. In other changes, VF Corp.’s Eric Wiseman handed the reins to Steven Rendle; Tim Belk left his family’s department store chain in the hands of Lisa Harper, after the sale of the company to Sycamore Partners, while Salvatore Ferragamo, Hugo Boss and Coty Inc. all picked new chiefs.
Responding to questions about Macy’s succession process, Lundgren told WWD, “We have always been thoughtful and proactive in planning for the future of our business. This is also true of our approach to thinking about talent and the leadership of our organization. When the board and I started planning for succession a few years ago, we considered a range of internal and external candidates. We were looking for someone who understood our business, who could lead through a time of dynamic change in the industry, who believed in the importance of attracting and retaining the best leadership…and who would have a clear vision of what it takes to continue to build on our successes. Ultimately, it became clear the right candidate was already on our team. Once we identified Jeff Gennette as the most qualified successor for this job, we actively and methodically worked to broaden the scope of his responsibilities, exposing him over time to all areas of the enterprise.”
Lundgren said he’s been able to “specifically focus” on the transition and “guide” Gennette on setting a course for the future of Macy’s. “It has been rewarding to share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the course of my career, paying forward the critical mentorship I received from some of the greats of retail, including Stanley Marcus, Arnold Aronson, Allen Questrom and others.”
It’s possible Gennette brings a new agenda to Macy’s. He’s cited opportunities to get deeper into customer data, personalization strategies, exclusives, leased concepts and new brands. He will be challenged to make Macy’s more experiential and appealing to more Millennials, and Bloomingdale’s future will be examined.
“The opportunity to lead this company is an incredible honor,” Gennette said, who suggested that the success of any retailer boils down to one essential: “The legacy of our great brand has been built on keeping customers at the forefront.”
• Nobody thought Tim Belk, an able ceo of Belk Inc. for 12 years, would leave his family’s business. The decision announced in June was prompted by the sale of the regional department store chain to Sycamore Partners, which replaced Belk with Lisa Harper, who has a good track record but never ran a department store. Harper was ceo of Hot Topic, another Sycamore holding.
Belk was well-run by three generations of the Belk family and has never been one of those sleepy, complacent regional retailers. It has maintained a loyal customer following, and expanded through acquisitions to solidify its concentration in the South. Tim Belk, grandson of founder William Henry Belk, fostered a culture of innovation, calculated risk-taking and created branding events like the Belk Bowl and the Southern Designer Showcase.
Leaving the business, said Belk, was “a personal decision. Now is the right time to move on and retire. I am feeling really good about where we are in this transition and where Belk is in the retail marketplace. We have made a lot of progress, from old Belk to new Belk.” Though leaving would be difficult, he suggested the company was in good hands and committed to perpetuating, not dismantling, programs he put in. “The general direction will remain the same,” Belk told WWD, an hour after the news of his departure broke. “I am sure Lisa will add to it and will be building on the direction. Lisa is very skilled at building brands. That’s a terrific thing she can bring to Belk and building out our ‘Modern. Southern. Style’ positioning.”
• At VF Corp. on Jan. 1, Steven Rendle, president and chief operating officer, takes the ceo reins from Eric Wiseman, who shifts to executive chairman. The change reflects a pattern of succession at the company. VF incumbents hand over the reins at age 60 and remain as chairmen for the transition. According to Wiseman, VF in 2008 began to identify and prepare the person to succeed him when the time came. Wiseman was also chief operating officer before he took the reins from Mackey McDonald in January 2008.
Each VF ceo makes a distinct mark on the company. When McDonald turned the focus toward brand-building, Wiseman’s brand experience and marketing background made sense. And with the focus more recently on innovation and fabrication, Rendle was another logical ceo choice, given his experience overseeing VF’s business coalitions worldwide as well as its global supply chain and direct-to-consumer platforms.
• At Salvatore Ferragamo SpA, Eraldo Poletto became ceo in August, succeeding Michele Norsa. The change in command seemed an apparent response to the Florence-based company’s slowdown. Poletto, formerly with Furla, has cited a renewed focus on product, especially the struggling footwear and leather goods categories, and has a different design structure. After the exit of former creative director Massimiliano Giornetti in March, Poletto revealed the addition of three designers; Fulvio Rigoni, for women’s; Paul Andrew, for women’s shoes, and Guillaume Meilland for men’s ready to wear. He also said he would strive to make retail operations more customer-centric and efficient.
• In September, Carlo Alberto Beretta left as ceo of Bottega Veneta (just days after the brand’s 50th anniversary celebration) to become chief client and marketing officer at parent company Kering, reporting to François-Henri Pinault, chairman and ceo. Beretta is monitoring the equity of the brands, establishing “a comprehensive, measurable and profitable customer culture” for each brand, and accelerating omnichannel capabilities. He started his career in 1993 at La Rinascente, worked at Valentino and Ermenegildo Zegna, and was appointed ceo of Bottega Veneta in January 2015.
• At Bottega Veneta, Claus-Dietrich Lahrs became ceo after leaving Hugo Boss where he expanded the brand worldwide, hired Jason Wu as creative director of women’s, but confronted deteriorating results. Prior to Boss, Lahrs held management positions at Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior Couture. Bottega Veneta has been impacted by the luxury downturn and Pinault said at the time of his appointment that Lahrs’ expertise was key to “build on what has been accomplished so far within the house…” Lahrs is expected to step up the turnaround plan put in place by his predecessor.