A Saks Surprise: Christina Johnson Resigns as SFA’s CEO

Christina Johnson has resigned as president and ceo of Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises, but will stay on until the end of the year.

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Christina Johnson

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Howard Socol

Photo By WWD Staff

Fred Wilson

Photo By WWD Staff

NEW YORK — In a surprising move Thursday, Christina Johnson resigned as president and chief executive officer of Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises.

Johnson had been in the role since February 2000 and was responsible for stores, catalog, Internet and outlets. She couldn’t be reached for comment, but the company said she stepped down to devote more time to family matters.

R. Brad Martin, chairman and ceo of Saks Inc., parent company of Saks Fifth Avenue, said in an interview that Johnson’s successor has already been selected, but that person “has some responsibilities he or she needs to finish up,” and the current employer has requested that person’s name not be released until December. Martin said the successor will assume the role in January 2004. In the interim, Steve Sadove, vice chairman of Saks Inc., will assume day-to-day leadership of the SFAE organization.

According to sources, Saks didn’t use an executive search firm to find its new ceo, and Martin sent a note to industry executives Thursday saying it found an “outstanding leader.”

Speculation was rampant, both within and outside Saks, on who that leader might be, with most of the conjecture zeroing in on Howard Socol, chairman and ceo of Barneys New York, and Fred Wilson, ceo of Donna Karan International, a unit of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

In addition to having the luxury experience from Barneys, Socol is best known for his successful career running Burdines, the Miami-based division of Federated Department Stores, where he spent 28 years. Socol, whose contract at Barneys runs through Jan. 31, 2005, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

Wilson, who is in the process of trying to turn around Karan’s business, was previously president and ceo of the LVMH Fashion Group, prior to which he was ceo of LVMH Specialty Store Retailing and president and chief merchandising officer at the firm’s DFS Group Ltd. He began his career at Federated Department Stores in 1969.

“Our company policy is we do not comment on rumors,” said a spokesman for DKI, when asked about Wilson.

Faced with disappointing financial results and difficulty in keeping key executives, Johnson’s departure was inevitable and only a matter of time, sources believed. Russell Reynolds Associates, the executive search firm, had been searching for a new head merchant since June, but sources said the problem was that bringing in a heavy-duty top merchant would require making him or her ceo.
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