NEW YORK — Kenneth B. Ross, 66, chief executive officer and chairman of JH Collectibles, died Wednesday night at St. Luke’s Hospital in Milwaukee.
Ross, who had been ill with heart problems for several years, died waiting for a heart transplant, according to a company official. Services will be held today at 1 p.m. at Temple Emanuel, in Milwaukee. Ross was known as a visionary, stewarding the firm in the Seventies away from its humble junior sportswear roots to create a major better-price sportswear label that targeted the needs of working women with investment clothing.
He had a reputation for sticking to classic fashions, while at the same time employing a brash marketing strategy that limited the number of retail doors to which he would sell. The firm, which is owned by his family, now garners annual sales of $150 million.
Because of his heart condition, Ross over the years gave more responsibility to his son, Bruce, who became president of the company four years ago, according to Normand Neal, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the firm. “Ken had a very dynamic personality and had a strong vision for the firm,” said Neal. “He emulated top designers with less expensive fashions.”
Born in Milwaukee, Ross graduated from the University of Wisconsin. After serving in the Army and working for Glen Manufacturing in Milwaukee, he joined JH Collectibles, then called Junior House, as vice president, national sales manager. The firm was then operated by his father-in-law, William Feldstein. In 1963, Ross and his father-in-law acquired the firm. Ross became executive vice president. In 1965, he was named president.
In 1977, Ross bought out his father-in-law and became chairman, president and ceo. He changed the name of the company to JH Collectibles and began focusing on updated misses’ sportswear.
“He was a very special human being,” said Jerome A. Chazen, chairman and ceo of Liz Claiborne Inc., who was one of Ross’s fraternity brothers at the University of Wisconsin. “He was not only an excellent fashion merchant with an outstanding taste level, but he built the business from small beginnings to a major sportswear house. He was a dear old friend.”
“He was a good businessman, and I had a lot of respect for him,” said John Pomerantz, chairman and ceo of The Leslie Fay Cos., who had known Ross for 15 years. Both were members of the Palm Beach Country Club. “He was a good guy to compete against. He was a real class act.”
In addition to his son Bruce, Ross is survived by his wife, Audrey; another son, Richard; a daughter, Karen, who works in advertising at JH; a brother, Donald, and three grandchildren.

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