J.Crew CEO Exits After 16 Months on Job

James Brett reportedly clashed with J.Crew Chairman Mickey Drexler over his strategy for turning around the ailing retailer.
Matthew HellerNovember 19, 2018

J.Crew CEO James Brett stepped into a fashion legend’s shoes 16 months ago. Now he is stepping down after apparently clashing with his predecessor over his ambitious plan to turn around the ailing retailer.

The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said Brett had clashed with Mickey Drexler, J.Crew’s longtime leader and current chairman, who disagreed with his “decisions to sell some apparel on Inc. and expand the assortment.”

The sources “said Mr. Drexler felt such moves were cheapening the brand,” the WSJ reported.

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J.Crew said Brett’s responsibilities will be assumed by a four-member executive team who “have significant operational and merchandising experience with successful retail brands.”

“Returning J.Crew to its iconic status required reinventing the brand to reflect the America of today with a more expansive, more inclusive fashion concept,” Brett said in a news release. “However, 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.”

Drexler spent 14 years as J.Crew’s chief executive before he was replaced in July 2017 by Brett, the former president of home furnishings chain West Elm,  at a time when the company was struggling with looming debt payments and declining consumer sentiment toward the brand.

As Business of Fashion reports, Brett “lowered prices, launched new brands and tried to reposition J.Crew as an inclusivity-driven, one-for-all label not so tied down by its preppy heritage, especially as it had most recently been interpreted by agenda-setting designer Jenna Lyons.”

The CEO also brought in former colleagues from West Elm to help execute the strategy. After four years of declining sales, J.Crew posted a slight gain in August but it remains saddled with $1.7 billion in debt from a 2011 leveraged buyout.

“Running a brand when burdened by crushing debt eliminates any runway opportunity for successful repositioning,” Brian Kelly, president of consultancy Brian Brand, told Retail Dive in an email.

Vincent Zanna, who was promoted to CFO in August 2017, is not part of the new leadership team of four executives.