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SFA’s Succession Plan: Is Fred Wilson the One Taking the CEO Reins?

Fred Wilson, Donna Karan International’s chief, appears to be the successor to Christina Johnson as president and ceo of Saks Fifth Avenue.

Fred Wilson

Fred Wilson

Photo By WWD Staff

NEW YORK — All arrows appear to be pointing to Fred Wilson, chief executive officer of Donna Karan International, as the one who will be heading Saks Fifth Avenue come January.

While neither Saks Inc., parent of Saks Fifth Avenue, nor officials at DKI’s parent LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton would confirm that Wilson would be joining Saks as president and chief executive officer, sources said that he’s Christina Johnson’s likely successor.

“I do not comment on rumors,” said Wilson on Monday. “I am the chief executive officer of the Donna Karan company. I’ve been with LVMH for 24 years.”

R. Brad Martin, chairman and ceo of Saks Inc., couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

The rumor machine went into overdrive this week over who would take over at SFA, with industry executives on both sides of the Atlantic speculating that Wilson was the chosen successor. While anything might happen between now and January, when the new SFA ceo is due to take over, sources said that Wilson is Martin’s handpicked choice for the job. Wilson and Martin are reportedly very good friends, and Martin has been asking him for a while to come and help fix the Saks Fifth Avenue stores.

“The vendor community is saying it’s him [Wilson], and it makes perfect sense,” said one source here. “He’s a mover and a shaker of business, and he has a track record of making businesses happen.”

“The deal was done about a month ago,” said a source in Paris. “It’s his dream job.”

According to industry observers, Wilson possesses many of the qualities needed to run the SFA chain. In addition to his luxury goods and retailing experience, both in the U.S. and internationally, Wilson is seen as a people person and straight shooter, with an ability to clearly articulate a position from both the commercial and creative perspectives. He also surrounds himself with talented people and is regarded as a good decision maker. However, as one source put it, “He’s not a merchant, he’s an operator.”

Within his first week on the job at DKI in October 2002, Wilson moved quickly to restructure the company by brand, not gender, and set the strategy, naming two division presidents and a new design director. Sources inside the company credit Wilson with getting DKI back on track, improving the pricing, quality, distribution and delivery of Karan’s products and hiring the right people to carry out the job.
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