Although dinner won’t be served, Gilbert Harrison and the panel he’s assembled for Monday’s Financo event will be dishing it out for sure.

This story first appeared in the January 7, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Some of the industry’s most outspoken and accomplished executives are booked for the annual Financo merchandising seminar, which this year takes a different approach.

It’s being held, as always, at the Harmonie Club starting at 4 p.m., but without the usual sit-down dinner. Financo will compensate with a turkey carving station, a pasta bar, an extended cocktail hour, and “true global perspective” provided by the speakers, assured Harrison, the chairman and founder of Financo.

“All the panelists are known to openly speak their minds. We will encourage that,” said Harrison, who will be moderating. He said he’s preparing “some zingers” to throw at the group to get the ball rolling.

“The two themes that stand out this year are the changing consumer mind-set in the wake of the most intense, global-reaching economic shift seen in our lifetime, and the influence of social networking, new media and technology,” Harrison said.

William S. Susman, president and chief operating officer of Financo, noted there’s a familiarity among the panelists that should encourage candor. They’re either friends, competitors or former colleagues. “We believe the interconnections are fascinating,” Susman said.

Set for the panel are J. Crew Group’s chairman and chief executive Millard Drexler, who will expound on how to reinvent business. His friend Sir Philip Green, owner of the U.K.’s Arcadia Group that owns Topshop, will give a perspective on merchandising for the U.K. versus the U.S. Topshop and J. Crew have stores on the same block in SoHo.

Hot Topic ceo Betsy McLaughlin will discuss social networking and “embracing change,” while Li & Fung president Bruce Rockowitz will talk about “the back side of the business” including production, sourcing and distribution challenges. Li & Fung is among the world’s largest sourcing companies.

Also on the panel will be James Fielding, president of Disney Stores, who will discuss the power of the Disney brand and his new agenda for the Disney stores, and Solomon Lew, chairman of Just Group, considered the largest jeans purveyor in Australia.

Last year’s Financo’s dinner made headlines when Drexler and Neiman Marcus Group chairman and ceo Burt Tansky locked horns over the future of brands, department stores and the luxury industry.

Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office is rounding up leading executives, including many in town for the National Retail Federation’s annual convention, for a dinner that night.

The Financo format will be more inclusive this year, Susman said, accommodating a crowd that’s 30 percent larger than last year’s, as well as a larger roster of speakers and a longer cocktail hour.

“There is still a wait list,” Harrison said. “People may like having a longer cocktail hour. One of the criticisms has been that the cocktails don’t last long enough.”

Even without the dinner, the Financo event maintains its appeal and purpose. “For sure, deals will still come out of our event. So will relationships,” Susman said.

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