RALPH ON THE HUNT: POLO TALKING TO FARAH ABOUT KEY EXEC SLOT

Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — Ralph Lauren is looking for another top gun — and has his eye on one of the industry’s marquee names, Roger Farah, sources said Monday.
Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. has an ambitious expansion program in the works, covering retailing, international distribution, licensing and other fronts. The company is said to be looking for a top talent to help lead the company, manage its growth and potentially help pump up the stock. Its closed at 17 3/4 Monday on the NYSE and has been up to 25 3/8 in the past 52 weeks.
Farah fits the bill, although his last performance, as chief executive officer of Venator, got mixed reviews. For 4 1/2 years, Farah presided over a complex and painful restructuring of Venator Group Inc., including shuttering the venerable Woolworth chain and closing or selling off a total of 35 divisions and axing thousands of workers. Amid a declining stock price, he stepped down as ceo last August, but continues as chairman, and is credited with rebuilding Venator’s core footwear and sportswear businesses and creating a new management team to head the remaining divisions, including Foot Locker and Champs.
Farah’s reputation was established while at Federated Department Stores, where he ran the Rich’s division and later Federated Merchandising, and was being groomed as a candidate to succeed then chairman and chief executive Allen Questrom. But Farah got impatient, and angered Federated management when he split the company to become president of Macy’s. Three months later, Farah made headlines again when he was forced out of his job when Federated took over Macy’s in 1994. In the process, Farah got a $14 million payout due to the change of ownership. Questrom sits on the board of Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., and any issues between him and Farah have apparently been resolved. After Farah left Macy’s, Lauren reportedly first considered him for a top job, but Farah joined what was then Woolworth’s. Farah is known for his skills as a manager and a merchant and his ability to attract talent. His retail background includes stints at Saks Fifth Avenue, where he rose to senior vice president.
Another top name in retailing, Jeffrey Sherman, president of Bloomingdale’s and a veteran of the upscale chain, was also recently interviewed at Lauren, sources said. However, Bloomingdale’s officials strongly denied that Sherman was leaving the store.
Sources also said that a new position would be created at Lauren, and that whoever fills it will work closely with Ralph Lauren, chairman and chief executive officer, and along side Lauren’s number-two executive, Lance Isham, president and chief operating officer. Lauren’s retail operations are run by Charles Fagan, senior vice president of retail, who reports to Isham.
Isham plays a major role in the corporation, having succeeded Michael Newman last November as chief operating officer. However, Isham took over responsibility for retail, wholesale and licensing about a year before, as Newman devoted his time to restructuring the corporation from a private fashion house into a public company.
“Ralph Lauren wants somebody to work with Lance,” said a source close to the company. “Since Newman left, there’s just too much to do. Lance, or anyone else, just can’t do it all. There is so much going on, with the European venture and Club Monaco.” Club Monaco was purchased by the Polo corporation in April 1999 and is considered one of several Ralph Lauren growth vehicles.
Farah and officials at Ralph Lauren could not be reached for comment Monday.
Last year, Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. acquired the $180 million, Paris-based Poloco SAS and certain affiliates, which hold European licenses to sell men’s and boy’s Polo apparel, women’s and men’s Polo Jeans and certain Polo accessories. In addition to the wholesale business, included in the acquisition is a Polo store in Paris and six outlet stores in France, the United Kingdom and Austria.
At the time, Ralph Lauren said, “Europe is the cornerstone of our global brand expansion. By owning Poloco, we plan to replicate the growth of the Polo brands we achieved in the U.S. throughout Europe.”
The company plans to increase Polo’s market penetration in Europe through door expansion and market development. It also expects to introduce in Europe its Lauren and Ralph women’s lines in apparel and accessories and to expand its children’s lines from the existing boys’ range into infants’, toddlers’ and girls.

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