Somewhere over at J. Crew HQ, Mickey Drexler is laughing in his chinos. After the merchant prince was pushed out as CEO of the Gap in 2002, the khakis king brought in Paul Pressler, a Disney executive with no fashion experience. We all know how that one ended: In January, Pressler resigned under pressure, scion Robert Fisher took the reins, and a six-month search for one of the toughest jobs in retail followed.
Today, in a surprise move, Gap announced another non-fashion CEO. Canadian drugstore executive Glenn Murphy will become the troubled company’s chief after the board initially called for “recruiting a chief executive officer who has deep retailing and merchandising experience, ideally in apparel.” I’ll give Murphy the same benefit of the doubt that Wall Street, though skeptical, claims it will give him—at least Murphy has retail experience, which today’s press release was oh-so-careful to highlight. But as the board indicated itself, the choice seems less than ideal.
For years, companies have tried to import CEOs from other fields. Sometimes it works. But in an industry as fickle and visionary and creative as fashion, CEOs without their finger on the pulse of new trends will have a much harder time than most.
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