J. Crew CEO Leaves After Clashes Over Brand Relaunch

November 19, 2018

By Carlo Versano

J. Crew's CEO is stepping down after a little more than a year on the job.

In a statement over the weekend, the retailer said a "mutual agreement" between chief James Brett and the company's board was reached in which Brett will depart and be replaced by a four-person "office of the CEO."

Brett had been charged with reinventing the struggling retailer for a new customer base, and had seen early signs of success with his strategy of lowering prices, expanding size offerings, and creating a more inclusive brand. Brett famously said of his unified theory of the new J. Crew: "This brand should never show at New York Fashion Week."

Same-store sales grew last quarter for the first time in four years. Even still, Brett reportedly clashed with Mickey Drexler, J. Crew's chairman and longtime merchandising impresario. The Wall Street Journal reported on one particularly heated meeting in which Drexler and other board members disapproved of Brett's plan to expand J. Crew's budget line. That followed Drexler's well-known disapproval of Brett's decision to sell some J. Crew merchandise on Amazon ($AMZN), which the chairman thought cheapened the brand.

In a statement, Brett said: "Despite the recent brand relaunch already showing positive results, the board and I were unable to bridge our beliefs on how to continue to evolve all aspects of the company."

Meanwhile, J. Crew CMO Vanessa Holden, who had also been in her role for only a year, resigned. The company said the two departures were unrelated, though they leave the retailer in disarray just as it prepares for a crucial holiday season.

To replace Brett, the board settled on a four-person management structure that includes Michael Nicholson, president and chief operating officer, Adam Brotman, president and chief experience officer, Lynda Markoe, chief administrative officer, and Libby Wadle, president of Madewell, the higher-end J. Crew sister brand that has been thriving.

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