NEW YORK — With the chief executive officer job at Bergdorf Goodman suddenly vacant, there’s no shortage of speculation about who could fill the plum position.

This story first appeared in the January 29, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Burt Tansky, president and ceo of Bergdorf parent Neiman Marcus Group, could pick himself to run the division, at least for a while, since he’s run Bergdorf’s before, likes to take charge and because he’s not about to rush into making a key appointment in the aftermath of the sudden and mysterious departure of Ron Frasch. It hasn’t been officially confirmed that Frasch is out, though he’s been missing in action for about two weeks.

According to sources, Tansky was in New York Wednesday in meetings regarding the Frasch situation. Frasch has reportedly been negotiating for a job at Saks Fifth Avenue, where he would be chief merchant and number two to ceo Fred Wilson. Saks Inc. vice chairman Steve Sadove had no comment on the report and Tansky was unavailable.

Saks is the last place in the world Tansky would want to see Frasch work next, because, as Bergdorf’s former chairman and ceo, Frasch has inside information on NMG strategies, vendor structure and marketing and merchandising strengths. Non-compete restrictions in Frasch’s contract could make a move to Saks sticky, requiring the retailer to buy Frasch out of his Bergdorf’s contract in a big way. Merchants from other retailers, such as Bloomingdale’s, also would have difficulty relocating to Saks or Bergdorf’s due to similar non-compete restrictions.

“Losing Frasch to Saks would be a serious loss to the Neiman Marcus Group,” said one executive search official.

There also has been speculation this week that Frasch had been trying to negotiate a bigger job at NMG, possibly to be Tansky’s successor, while talking to Saks, playing one company off against the other. Frasch couldn’t be reached for comment.

Sources close to Saks said that its chief merchant job would command a salary of between $800,000 and $1 million. At Bergdorf’s, Frasch, who is 55, in fiscal 2003 made $600,000 in salary and $298,176 in bonus. Tansky, who is 65, took home $1.2 million in salary and $1.1 million in bonus.

Currently, Karen Katz, president and ceo of Neiman Marcus Stores since December 2002, has the inside track to succeed Tansky. Katz was previously president and ceo of Neiman Marcus Direct.

However, it would behoove Tansky and NMG to use the Bergdorf’s vacancy as an opportunity to put another potential Tansky successor in place. Frasch may not fit that profile, since he’s never run a big chain like Neiman Marcus, though he’s got the luxury experience and a high profile in the fashion markets. He once was a general merchandise manager at Neiman Marcus.

Frasch missed the men’s collections in Europe, which he usually attends. “The word at the men’s collections was that he had an ear infection,” said a retail source.

With Frasch now not believed to be ill, the speculation has shifted to who could succeed him. His former boss, Tansky, has a reputation for promoting from within the ranks, rather than recruiting outside executives for top jobs. That has been a big factor in sustaining consistency and focus at NMG and high morale, as well.

Inside NMG, there’s Neva Hall, the highly regarded executive vice president of stores at Neiman Marcus Stores, who previously was senior vice president and general merchandise manager for women’s shoes, cosmetics, handbags and fashion accessories. Ann Stordahl, executive vice president of merchandising, is a strong merchant, though she’s been passed over before.

An internal candidate at Bergdorf’s could be Muriel Gonzalez, another strong merchant, though her expertise is in accessories, jewelry and cosmetics, and not women’s ready-to-wear.

Outside the organization, industry sources said strong potential candidates would include Wayne Meichner, president of Polo Retail, a former executive vice president of merchandising at Saks, said to love retail. At Saks, he handled men’s wear, cosmetics and ready-to-wear. Another possible candidate is Eugenia Ulasewicz, president of Burberry USA and former regional stores director at Saks Fifth Avenue. She has both fashion and store operations skills, and has been working in the shadow of Burberry ceo Rose Marie Bravo, .

There’s no shortage of former Saks executives who could qualify as candidates, including Christina Johnson, who was ousted as Saks Fifth Avenue’s ceo last year, just as the company started showing increases, and Gail Pisano, former executive vice president of merchandising for women’s designer and Gold Range merchandise, intimate apparel, jewelry and accessories, though she’s said to be enjoying retirement and her family since leaving Saks last summer.

There also has been speculation about Sharon Jester Tierney, president of Victoria’s Secret Catalog, and a former head of Neiman Marcus Direct, who is well liked by Tansky, although Victoria’s Secret is a much bigger business than Bergdorf’s, and about Kathy Nedorostek, president of the U.S. wholesale division of Coach, and a former divisional vice president of designer ready-to-wear, intimate apparel and hosiery at Saks who was brought there by Tansky, a former Saks president.

Some long shots could be Robert Chavez, president and ceo of Hermès USA; Marla Sabo, president of Christian Dior USA and a former divisional at Saks, and Jeane Jackson, who once ran Banana Republic and walmart.com, and who earlier worked at Saks. But it’s been a while since she ran a retail business and she has lately been sitting on corporate boards.