NEW YORK — Ken Pilot is leaving Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. and, according to sources, he’s en route to American Eagle Outfitters.
Sources said he will lead a new division there that’s under development. The unit will appeal to an older and more affluent demographic than the teen and college audience to which American Eagle caters.
Pilot could not be reached for comment Tuesday. His office voice mail at Polo referred calls to an answering machine in a 201 area code. A spokeswoman at Polo confirmed that Pilot is leaving the company and a search for a successor has already begun. A call to Laura Weil, chief financial officer at American Eagle, was not returned.
American Eagle has been beefing up its staff for its upcoming concept. As reported last month, the retailer tapped two former Abercrombie & Fitch executives, Michele Donnan Martin and Charles Martin, to lead product design and development of its new concept. Donnan Martin will serve as chief designer and general merchandise manager of women’s, while Martin was named chief designer of men’s. At the time, American Eagle said the two executives will report to Roger Markfield, president and vice chairman of American Eagle, but if Pilot joins to run the new division, the other executives are likely to report to him.
American Eagle’s new division is expected to hit malls in spring 2006. It’s expected to go head-to-head with some recently revealed specialty retail start-ups also aimed at older, more affluent shoppers, such as Abercrombie & Fitch’s Ruehl division, which began opening stores last year. Gap Inc. is also developing a division that will be geared toward women aged 35 and older and is expected to launch for business next fall.
Pilot joined Polo in September 2003 as president of factory stores and retail concept development. One development he was responsible for was Rugby, which in October launched a store in Boston. Polo considers Rugby its first truly vertical retail concept.
It could not be determined whether Pilot was squeezed out of Polo or took the job at American Eagle of his own accord.
Pilot has an extensive background with specialty retail concepts, having held several merchandising roles on a global basis in his 13 years with Gap Inc., including president of Gap International. He left in August 2002 to try to turn around J. Crew as chief executive officer, but left after just a few months when his former boss, ex-Gap ceo Millard Drexler, took his place.
Despite the short run at J. Crew, Pilot was reportedly well compensated, receiving about $4 million to leave, said one source. The source added that Pilot’s reputation is intact. “He’s bright, polished, smart and has a very good blend of stores and merchandising skills. He had a good run at The Gap,” said Robert Kerson, the executive search consultant.
At Polo, he has been reporting to Jeffrey Sherman, chief operating officer, and an executive with a much different demeanor than Pilot’s. While Sherman is reserved and conservative, Pilot is considered edgier, very ambitious, and aggressive. “It was oil and water,” said the source. Sherman’s focus is on executing store rollouts and global expansion plans.