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Boneparth: The Man Inside the Suit

In an interview, Jones Apparel Group ceo Peter Boneparth talks about his path to fashion and the acquisition of Barneys New York

“One of the things I’m proudest of is — some of the division presidents around here are always stunned — they actually ask me what I think now, which is fun,” he said. Powered by some unseen kinetic energy, Boneparth’s sentences can sometimes start off in one direction only to jump back, start anew and turn once or twice before the meaning, which is inevitably quite clear, appears.

Still not a merchant, the ceo said he has insight into the “price-value relationship” and can see if a line is overly broad or if a jacket is priced too high. While he will never make color decisions, that’s fine, he said, because his job is not about picking colors or choosing skirt lengths.

Being ceo of Jones ultimately means being boss to almost 18,000 employees and caretaker to investors, who own more than $4 billion worth of the company’s stock. It’s a responsibility he takes very seriously, which can make him seem stiff at times.

It’s also a responsibility that, with the help of e-mails via BlackBerry, follows him wherever he goes. It can also be trying, such as when he had to tell investors last month that fourth-quarter profits would come in at least 25 percent below projections.

“You feel like you let people down invariably,” he said. “I have a great job, I get paid a lot to do this, and I take the good with the bad.” In 2003, the ceo received a $2 million salary, a $2 million bonus, restricted stock awards and other compensation.

Issuing the warning, Boneparth said, was part of the job.

“It’s like the quarterback of a football team,” he said. “You get too much credit when the team wins, and you probably get too much blame when the team loses.”

Sports metaphors pop up regularly when Boneparth talks about business. He played collegiate soccer and runs about 20 miles a week, whether he’s in New York or traveling in China.

“I truly do try to get some exercise in every day,” he said. “It’s enormously important for me in terms of stress relief.”
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