Following senior management changes in the last week at Ann Taylor, Talbots, J.C. Penney and J. Crew alone, on Monday Rob Gruen, Parisian’s chairman and chief executive, suddenly resigned. His responsibilities were taken over by George Jones, chairman and ceo of the parent Saks Department Store Group, operated by Saks Inc. Meanwhile, Filene’s Basement named a new ceo in former Bon Ton chief Heywood Wilansky (see story, page 2).
Gruen was recruited by Jones in 2001 to reinvent the 40-unit Parisian as "The Specialty Store Next Door," the tagline for its strategy to regain its high-level service reputation in the South and sell merchandise that is distinct from department stores. Officials said that initiatives put in place by Gruen and Jones — adding private brands and bridge offerings such as Misook, as well as emphasizing full-price selling and fewer coupons — would continue.
But what won’t continue is the long association that Gruen had with Jones. Before Saks Inc., the two worked together at Warner Bros., Target and Rose’s Department Stores.
"This move surprised me, because it’s a relationship that goes back well over 15 years. Rob and George worked together for a long time," said Kirk Palmer, of the executive search firm bearing his name.
But according to Robert Kerson, managing partner at Korn Ferry, "It’s the end of the year. The numbers are put to bed, and companies lick their wounds, decide to make changes and reinvent their strategies. Retail apparel firms had a particularly tough year. This is the season when executive recruiters make their money."
Gruen’s departure raised speculation that he had a falling out with Jones, and probably over strategy for Parisian. A spokeswoman for Saks Inc. said that Jones wanted more involvement with Parisian management, especially after consolidation of other department store divisions had been completed in January. "Jones felt he had a good management team in place for the Northern Department Store Group and the Proffitt’s and McRae’s group, so he wanted to spend more efforts on Parisian," she said.