The leadership change-up at J.Crew is only one in a recent string of corporations re-shuffling leadership and focusing on innovation. Companies like Coca-Cola, Ford, Whole Foods, Starbucks have all brought in new leadership just in the past few months.
Several days ago Mickey Drexler, the CEO of J. Crew announced plans to leave the company. Drexler spent 14 years at J. Crew boosting its fashion-cred. When he first came on as CEO the company was in a rut, and he (along with Creative Director Jenna Lyons) masterminded the reinvention of the preppy brand.
Mickey has built up a reputation for himself in the fashion industry, acquiring the nickname the Merchant Prince. Prior to taking over J.Crew, he was the CEO of Gap where, during his 18-year run, he was credited with creating the classic 1990’s preppy office uniform of a button-down shirt and khaki pants, as well as launching Gap’s more affordable sister-store Old Navy. Though Mickey was fired from Gap in 2002 after a 24-month drop in same-store sales.
This may be a pattern emerging in Drexler’s resume, an article from Forbes reported in recent years same-store sales at J.Crew have fallen in 11 of the past 12 quarters. The company closed up its bridal shop last year and announced plans to eliminate 150 of its full-time positions. Drexler is a proven visionary at reinventing and reviving struggling brands but is he able to steer a thriving company around the same pot holes that it fell into before he got behind the wheel?
Jenna Lyons, long-time executive creative director, famous for revamping the brand’s style and becoming the face and living embodiment of the J.Crew, stepped down in April and took her signature thick-rimmed glasses with her.
The Drexler-Lyons duo reigned as the golden children of the fashion industry for nearly a decade–pioneering the ballet flat, cardigan wearing, glitzy statement jewelry adorned, neon colored, loud floral print rocking ensembles that could be spotted everywhere in offices and schools to the First Lady of the United States.
But recently the clothing line struggled to “get it right”. Accused of being out of touch with customers, over-charging, and at times making ill-fitted and unflattering clothing, the brand must now take a stab at reinventing itself once again.
Taking over for Drexler is James Brett, current president of West Elm, the home furnishing brand popular with Millennials. While Brett’s resume details stints in the fashion industry, most of his experience and success did not come from the fashion industry. The New York Times reported that Drexler, 72, said of incoming CEO Jim Brett, “Jim has a proven track record of pushing for innovation.”
In addition to overseeing J. Crew, Brett will be responsible for J.Crew’s younger, hipper sister store Madewell (Also a creation of Mickey Drexler’s), which is doing well by all accounts.
Choosing a fashion industry outsider is likely a strategic business move. To quote Marshall Goldsmith’s best-selling book, companies across corporate America are realizing “what got you here isn’t going to get you there.” More leadership changes at major companies are likely on the horizon as brands struggle to adjust to new technology, along with realizing consumers’ desire to have a voice in the creation of products, and their evolved shopping behaviors which are decidedly more budget conscious.