In a major shake-up at JA Apparel Corp., owner of the Joseph Abboud brand, chief executive officer Marty Staff has exited the company, replaced by Anthony Sapienza, previously president and chief operating officer of Joseph Abboud Mfg. Corp., the company’s manufacturing division based in New Bedford, Mass.
“Marty had a positive impact on the company, but the time had come for a change for the sake of the brand. Putting Tony in charge is in the company’s best interest,” said Bill Watts, chairman of JA Apparel and an operating partner at J.W. Childs Associates, the Boston-based private equity firm that acquired JA Apparel in 2004 for $73 million. “This is something that has been under consideration on the board level for an extended period.”
In addition to Sapienza’s appointment, Kenton Selvey, who was formerly senior vice president of business development and brand strategy, was named president of JA Brand Group, which oversees the company’s licensing business. Ross Gershkowitz, previously vice president of sales, was promoted to senior vice president of tailored clothing. Suits, which JA Apparel produces in-house in the New Bedford production facility, and licensing are the two bulwarks of the company’s business, generating about 80 and 20 percent of revenue, respectively. Licensing represents an outsize percentage of profits.
Reached by phone, Staff said, “I had almost seven years at JA Apparel. I’m proud of what we accomplished and think the new management team is the correct one to take the company to the next level of success.”
Staff, who is known in the men’s wear industry for his strong opinions and colorful character, remains a small shareholder in JA Apparel, with a single-digit percentage of the company. Staff was the original engineer of J.W. Childs Associates’ purchase of the company from Italy-based RCS Mediagroup, pitching the deal to the private equity firm in 2003.
Prior to taking the top job at JA Apparel, Staff was a former ceo of Hugo Boss USA. By removing Staff from JA Apparel and promoting from within, J.W. Childs Associates eliminates a seven-figure salary from the cost structure, noted sources.
Staff’s tenure at JA Apparel was marred by a long-running feud with the brand’s founding designer, Joseph Abboud, who sold the company in 2000 and rejoined from 2004 to 2005, leaving again after conflicts with Staff. Abboud and JA Apparel then became embroiled in an expensive legal tangle over the designer’s rights to his given name, which ended earlier this year after a protracted court case.
The Joseph Abboud brand does more than $300 million in total retail sales, including licenses, with key accounts including Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Von Maur. According to sources, profits at JA Apparel are up this year from 2009, but still below 2006 levels.
“This company, like everyone in this industry, suffered through the economic downturn — there’s no getting around that,” said Watts. “But the management team, including Marty, got it through a difficult period. Both earnings and revenue are trending up, we are in compliance with all our lending agreements and we have positive momentum.”
J.W. Childs Associates has owned JA Apparel for six years and is eager to cash out its position, and is seeking more than $100 million for the company, said sources. Watts said the company receives regular interest from potential buyers but there are no serious negotiations taking place currently. Sapienza lives outside of New Bedford but will spend the majority of his time in New York at JA Apparel headquarters, he said.