It's officially the end of an era at J.Crew. Two months after the clothing retailer announced the departure of Creative Director and President Jenna Lyons, CEO of 14 years Mickey Drexler announced that he, too, will be (mostly) out of the picture.
Effective next month, Drexler will be replaced in the CEO role by James Brett, who comes from furniture retailer West Elm. Drexler will stay on as chairman of J.Crew's board of directors. Prior to West Elm, Mr. Brett was the Chief Merchandising Officer for the Urban Outfitters Division of Urban Outfitters, Inc. The company also announced 250 staff cuts last month in addition to some shuffling at the executive level, which was likely in preparation for this move.
"This is an exciting time for J.Crew as we continue to make significant changes to position our company for long-term success," said 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." Drexler also told WWD that this succession plan had been "in motion for some time" and that it was his idea.
The announcement follows years of disappointing sales performance at J.Crew, with comparable sales down 7 percent last year — which means Brett will be tasked with orchestrating a significant turnaround at the brand. Drexler seems confident in his ability to do so. "He's a merchant. A brand guy," Drexler told WWD. "He likes design, and he is a customer person. Those are the four critical elements that go into making a strong leader." WWD also cites financial sources who say Brett has grown West Elm's sales from about $250 million to about $1 billion. There's also the fact that many retailers see opportunity in diversifying into the home market lately.
Known as a "merchant prince," Drexler was first credited with Gap's massive success in the '90s and with the launch of Old Navy. Ultimately, he was fired from Gap after 18 years and in 2003, joined J.Crew as CEO. He successfully transformed the sleepy, East-Coast preppy catalog retailer into an international brand with fashion cache. He took the company public, then private again, and has been known to micromanage and answer emails from customers himself. (He also sits on the board of Warby Parker.)
It's hard to imagine Drexler in any role other than at the helm of a mass retailer, but clearly he's ready to take a step back, at least for now.