Karen Greenberg, a vibrant and energetic executive who was president of Calvin Klein Sportswear, a unit of G-III Apparel Group Ltd., died at New Rochelle Montefiore Hospital Monday morning at the age of 60.
The cause of death was esophageal cancer, which she had been diagnosed with last September.
Greenberg was born Jan. 18, 1959, in Manhattan and grew up in White Plains, N.Y., until she was 13. Her family then moved to Dallas, where she eventually started her career at Dillard’s, rising to buyer. During her three years at Dillard’s, she used to buy Liz Claiborne apparel and cofounder and then-chief executive officer Jerry Chazen asked permission from Dillard’s to allow her to move to Claiborne’s New York office and work for them. She spent 27 years at Liz Claiborne, rising to division president, responsible for the group’s midtier apparel.
Greenberg worked with every Claiborne leader from Art Ortenberg to Chazen to Paul Charron and Bill McComb. “She was the only one who worked for all the ceo’s,” said her husband, Neil Laufer.
While at Claiborne, she was involved in the sale of the business to J.C. Penney Co. Inc. in 2011, and found herself out of a job, said Laufer. In 2012, Greenberg moved to G-III, where she became president of Calvin Klein Sportswear. She later added responsibility for the DKNY women’s business. She worked until her death.
In fact, on Sunday, the day before she died, her husband and daughter had taken her to the hair salon so she could get a blow out because she was planning to go to work on Monday. “Even through all the past few months, her work ethic, drive and commitment to her business and her company never wavered,” said her daughter, Rachel Laufer.
Neil Laufer said his wife always thought she was talented with numbers, but he would tell her it was her leadership and how she interacted with people that made her a great executive. Everyone knew that if they worked for her they better be prepared and have a pen and paper when they met with her. She would often send new recruits running to get paper and she’d ask, “Did you think I wouldn’t have anything important for you to write down?”
As for her interests, Greenberg loved fashion and decorating. “One of her hobbies was shopping. She liked everything fashion. She loved home décor, we’ve done several homes together,” said Laufer, who said they had a house in Cabo San Lucas.
Karen Murray, one of her best friends who is ceo of Sequential Brands Group and previously worked with Greenberg at Claiborne, said, “She was president of one division (women’s) and I was president of Claiborne men’s. For a short period I was a group president over women’s and men’s and she reported into me. We were there together for 15 years. She was a great teacher and a great leader and a great friend.”
Morris Goldfarb, chairman and ceo of G-III, said about Greenberg, “She’s one of the most committed people who never gave up.”
Sammy Aaron, president of G-III, to whom Greenberg reported, said, “She was loved by everyone at G-III. She lived her life with grace, love and professionalism. She will be missed dearly.”
Chazen, founder and chairman of Chazen Capital Partners, said, “I was introduced to her [at Dillard’s] and spoke to her and liked her vibrancy and her feeling for the business. She came across so nicely as a young person.”
While at Claiborne she did everything that was expected of her, he said. “She became a star salesperson over a period of time and was given additional responsibility to supervise other salespeople. She was always so young. She handled that very well, and people respected her for her work habits which were excellent and the decisions she was making as our company was growing. She became a division head,” Chazen said.
Charron, now a management consultant, said, “She was a longtime Liz executive full of energy and experience. She ran several important businesses and was a woman of great substance. She’s top shelf. It’s so sad, so young, beautiful, a mom, well married.”
In addition to her husband Neil and daughter Rachel, Greenberg is survived by her son, Josh Laufer.
Services will be held Wednesday at Temple Israel of New Rochelle at 1000 Pinebrook Boulevard at 10 a.m.