CEO's: Who Has 'It'?

The best executives and designers are those with an indefinable yet vital quality. Getting "it" requires a rare combination. By Harry Bernard

Did Pressler get some of it from departed Gap ceo Mickey Drexler, now with J. Crew? It’s hard for us to say at this time, but it’s undeniable that Pressler didn’t lose any of what he might have inherited.

Men and women who get it have forced us to rethink the way we view ourselves, judge our neighbors, how and where we shop, how we dress, how we travel and how we want to live. Coco Chanel gave us ready-to-wear, Giorgio Armani allowed men to like fashion and pursue it, Ralph Lauren gave the world a view of the American dream as lifestyle and Calvin Klein gave us both American minimalism and took the first significant bite out of Levi’s hold on the denim jeans business. More important, he built a worldwide reputation based on two commodity items — sexy underwear and denim jeans.

Liz Claiborne forced retailers to create an entirely new classification and her brand was the first to garner its own open-to-buy and buyer. This was accomplished by giving career women clothes to wear to work designed to be understandable and accessible. Her vision has been developed into one of the industry’s largest and most profitable organizations.

Still, when he recognized that the brand was facing oversaturation, Paul Charron, the company’s ceo, began building a coalition of 33 brands to make up the Liz Claiborne corporate entity. This approach gave the company access to multiple channels of distribution, and a wide range of consumers who can select styles from the most basic to trendy fashions at prices ranging from mass market to bridge.

And say what you like about dehumanization, but the new LizPlanning initiative between Claiborne and Federated not only reinforces just how clearly Charron and his team get it, but adds to the growing body of evidence that Terry Lundgren, Federated’s ceo, gets not only what needs to be done to make department stores competitive and compelling again, but also is putting it to work.

Mindy Grossman has made Nike a serious player in the women’s market, a business dominated by others until recently. Dick Baker, Ocean Pacific’s lifestyle-driven ceo, has literally brought the company and the OP brand back from the dead. Not content with merely bringing the brand back to life, he’s completely restructured the business to make it a pure marketing company, with revenue derived from a strong licensing program driven by OP’s top management.

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