What will happen to J.Crew without Mickey Drexler as CEO?

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Photo: RetailWire
Jun 06, 2017
George Anderson

Past performance, as they say, is no indication of future performance. That, unfortunately, turned out to be the case with J.Crew’s Mickey Drexler, who is stepping down as chief executive of the retailer, despite a reputation as among the greats in apparel retailing based on leading a turnaround of Gap and creating its successful Old Navy chain.

Mr. Drexler, who will remain as J.Crew’s chairman, is being replaced by James Brett, a retail executive with more than 25 years experience. Mr. Brett, who most recently served as president of West Elm, will join J.Crew next month. Mr. Brett previously served as chief merchandising officer for Urban Outfitters. He also worked in merchandising roles for Anthropologie, J.C. Penney and May Department Stores.

“We continue to make significant changes to position our company for long-term success,” said Mr. Drexler, in a statement. “As chairman and an owner of the company, it is my responsibility to focus on the future of J.Crew and find the right leadership to execute on our strategic plans.”

In an interview last month with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Drexler admitted that he did not appreciate the speed at which technology was changing the retail business. The chain has moved some of its clothing production from China to countries close to the U.S. market.

Mr. Drexler told the paper that J.Crew was lowering prices on about 300 items and had created an analytics group focused on optimizing pricing.

Jenna Lyons, president and J. Crew’s long-time creative director, stepped down in April after several years of sales declines. Ms. Lyons was replaced by Somsack Sikhounmuong as chief design officer at J.Crew. He was head designer for the company’s successful Madewell brand from 2013 to 2015 and is responsible for overseeing the design teams for J.Crew’s men’s, women’s and crewcut lines.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you expect to happen to J.Crew without Mickey Drexler as CEO? What do you think James Brett will bring to the job that wasn’t present with Mickey Drexler?

Braintrust
"Changing of the guard is net positive, but James Brett will have his hands very full trying to find a new, sustainable path for J.Crew."
"Daunting challenge as the long tail of retail has hit apparel more than any other category since books and music."
"...it will take a complete company-wide internal disruption for J. Crew to recover their once-prominent position in the mid-priced apparel arena."

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7 Comments on "What will happen to J.Crew without Mickey Drexler as CEO?"

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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

I applaud Mr. Drexler for admitting it was time for change and then taking himself out of the game. Apparel seems to be one of the most disrupted categories and consequently one of the most challenging. Changing of the guard is net positive, but James Brett will have his hands very full trying to find a new, sustainable path for J.Crew.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust

Agreed. This is a very positive move for J.Crew that should have happened years ago. Now, Brett will be playing catch-up.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

I have great respect for Mickey Drexler’s accomplishments: Ann Taylor, The Gap and J.Crew. However change is necessary when a company has lost its focus. J.Crew is suffering as many fashion apparel chains are trying to find their audience in today’s competitive world while adding the right technology to achieve the omnichannel experience. It’s very challenging, and J. Crew has a lot to think through carefully and invest in if they are going to survive. Could this happen with Drexler still at the helm? Probably but without him the mission will be the same. That mission is how to turn the company around.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

This was a necessary change for J.Crew who faces the monumental challenge of turning their business around, transforming their organization into a customer-first/digital-native model, somehow recovering the loyal customers they lost, engaging the trust and confidence of new customers and perhaps a significant rebranding of what makes this company unique in a very dynamic apparel industry. Whatever their approach, it will require collective creativity and fashion innovation to make this process work.

James Brett will have his hands full, but it will take a complete company-wide internal disruption for J. Crew to recover their once-prominent position in the mid-priced apparel arena.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

First, keep in mind that Mickey Drexler is not exactly riding into the sunset: He retains his chairman title and a significant ownership in the company. So it remains to be seen whether Mr. Brett has the freedom to reshape the company as much as it needs. It’s not always easy for somebody with Mr. Drexler’s track record to walk away.

As to the reshaping, I expect to see a few things happen: First, a faster expansion of the Madewell business. Second, a course correction for the J.Crew brand itself, perhaps back to its legacy positioning as a more affordable (but still aspirational) alternative to Ralph Lauren. (Right now it’s nowhere close to a clear point of view.) And third, expanding the J.Crew brand (once it is fixed) into new categories, just as Mr. Brett has done by treating West Elm as a lifestyle business.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Daunting challenge as the long tail of retail has hit apparel more than any other category since books and music. Given Mr. Brett’s background, I would expect the stores to improve in terms of experience for sure, but the bigger challenge today is having to compete with Alexa, not just Banana Republic or Macy’s. And that’s a wait and see in my mind.

End of the day, I would expect J.Crew to be more experiential on the physical side, more connected and relevant on the digital side and oh yeah, a LOT smaller.

gordon arnold
Guest

A large part of designing and developing a change of course to avoid catastrophic corporate irrelevance is failure to own independence from the previous executive staff. Mr. Drexler’s information conduits into the business management will most likely cause divisiveness and delayed response to the immediate market needs. Mr. Brett should consider skipping the honeymoon and appeal directly to the board for a divorce from Drexler and his rights to govern the needed repairs and business means.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Changing of the guard is net positive, but James Brett will have his hands very full trying to find a new, sustainable path for J.Crew."
"Daunting challenge as the long tail of retail has hit apparel more than any other category since books and music."
"...it will take a complete company-wide internal disruption for J. Crew to recover their once-prominent position in the mid-priced apparel arena."

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