A SHIFT IN DIRECTION AS SAKS REPORTEDLY SEEKS NEW PRESIDENT
Byline: David Moin
NEW YORK — In an apparent delayed reaction to the departure of Rose Marie Bravo, sources say Saks Fifth Avenue has begun the difficult task of searching for a new president.
Bravo left Saks on Sept. 5 to become chief executive officer of Burberrys Worldwide, a move that shocked the company and rocked the industry.
At Saks, Bravo was a fierce competitor, securing exclusives and product launches in many markets, and helping to beef up a branch network that had a mixed performance. She commands respect in the marketplace and was a key player in Saks’ turnaround efforts and renewed attempts to steal market share from the competition, especially Neiman Marcus.
Only a handful of individuals have comparable experience and stature.
Topping the list is Andrea Jung, executive vice president and president of global marketing and new businesses at Avon Products Inc. Jung is also a former executive vice president of women’s at Neiman Marcus and once worked at the now-defunct I. Magnin.
Sources said Saks chairman and ceo Philip Miller has already talked to Jung. The two executives could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
If Jung did join Saks, the move would raise more than few eyebrows, given that she is married to Michael Gould, chairman and chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s, which competes heatedly against Saks, especially in New York.
There has also been speculation that Jung is one of several candidates to eventually succeed James Preston as ceo of Avon. How that situation shakes out could affect whether Jung makes a career change. She is recognized by observers as having strong merchandising skills and a great deal of poise.
When Bravo said she was leaving, Saks said it had no plans to name a new president but moved fast to try to fill the void. Miller said he would take direct control of Bravo’s responsibilities for merchandising and marketing activities, on top of supervising other selling and store operation activities. Miller has since been more visible in the markets and at the designer collections.
When Miller’s role was expanded, two key Saks officials were promoted. Stephen Bock, formerly senior vice president and general merchandise manager for designer apparel, cosmetics and fragrances, was named executive vice president of merchandising. Sheri Wilson-Gray, senior vice president of marketing, was named executive vice president of marketing.
But now, with management under pressure from Wall Street to improve the performance and pump up the stock price, the Saks strategy seems to have shifted, with Miller reportedly seeking help. The stock, listed on the New York Stock Exchange under Saks Holdings, closed unchanged Wednesday at 23 5/16 and has a 52-week high of 39 1/4. The company posted a strong fourth quarter last year and had a comp-store sales gain of about 5 percent last month, though for most of this year it has fallen below expectations.
It won’t be easy to find a new Saks president, someone of the caliber of Bravo, considering the dearth of talent in the industry, particularly in high-end specialty retailing.
Aside from Jung, observers speculated that Saks might take a look at other current or former Neiman Marcus merchants, including Ron Frasch, president of GFT USA and a former top Neiman’s merchant. There is also Anne Ball, who is currently a consultant to Saks on its overseas private label program, and who formerly worked at Barneys New York and Anne Klein, and Joseph Cicio, a veteran of Donna Karan and Macy’s, who succeeded Bravo as ceo of I. Magnin before the chain was shut down.