According to Palmer, it is a mix of high performers interacting and learning from one another, coupled with strong leadership at the top, that produces talent to a disproportionate degree. "Companies falling into this group include Polo Ralph Lauren, J. Crew and Target."
So who are the stars of the future? WWD asked headhunters and retailers who they see as worth watching or as potential chief executive officers. Here are their picks:
- Ron Johnson, senior vice president of Apple retailing, reporting to Steve Jobs. He's got the right stuff to turn around a big ship, like the Gap, and has vision. "He's a very strong executive with an incredible pedigree, from Target to Apple," said one source. "He grew up as a merchant, but clearly he's also a strategist." The Apple retail rollout has been fast, furious and highly creative, with its below-ground, 24-hour flagship on Fifth Avenue and sales per square foot of over $2,000.
- Jones Apparel Group's Lynne Cote, ceo of wholesale sportswear, suits and dresses, and Mark Mendelson, chief merchandising officer. Mendelson has interpersonal skills and a rounded background, including stints at Ann Taylor and Elie Tahari, and has a relatively high profile in the industry and media, whereas Cote is lower profile but considered a strategic, big-picture thinker.
- Harlan Bratcher, president of Armani Exchange. He came up through the marketing side of the industry and is described as a compelling leader adept at team building. He's been senior vice president of global marketing at Calvin Klein, served as Sony's senior vice president of retail development and started his career on the ground floor at Neiman Marcus.
- Bridget Ryan Berman, ceo of Giorgio Armani North America. She has a unique blend of operations skills, a high taste level and can articulate a vision. Her background is in retail operations at Polo outlets and Apple's head of store operations. "She has tremendous presence," said one source.
- Wayne Meichner, president of the retail division of Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. He's considered an excellent merchant with a clear business head and people skills who is strategic, with global experience. He spent 23 years at Saks Fifth Avenue, starting in executive training and leaving as executive vice president of merchandising, in charge of about 60 percent of the company's buying, though his experience was weighted in men's wear. At Lauren, he could one day succeed Roger Farah, president and chief operating officer.