J.Crew Changes CEOs for Third Time in Three Years
Jan Singer leaving after less than a year, replaced by head of Madewell division
published : 26 Nov 2020 at 04:00
newspaper section: Business
writer: Suzanne Kapner and Juliet Chung
J.Crew Group replaced its chief executive after less than a year in the role, and just a few months after the apparel seller emerged from bankruptcy protection with new hedge-fund owners.
Jan Singer, who took over as CEO in February, was replaced Tuesday by Libby Wadle, a longtime J.Crew executive. Neither of them was immediately available for comment.
A person familiar with the matter described the change as a board decision meant to simplify the management structure.
The two executives had split oversight of the company's brands, with Ms. Singer overseeing J.Crew and Ms. Wadle running Madewell, its faster-growing business.
J.Crew filed for bankruptcy protection in May, and emerged in September with a deal that cut its debt and handed ownership to a group of lenders, led by New York hedge fund Anchorage Capital Group LLC. Anchorage co-founder Kevin Ulrich became J.Crew's chairman.
Mr. Ulrich has taken a hands-on role that includes attending some management meetings, other people familiar with the company said.
They said Ms. Singer had done an admirable job steering the company through the bankruptcy process by meeting financial targets and that the business had stabilized.
Ms. Singer was surprised by the decision to change leadership, some of the people said.
J.Crew had struggled in recent years with sizing and quality issues. Its longtime CEO Mickey Drexler stepped down in 2017, and his successor, former West Elm executive Jim Brett, left after 16 months.
Ms. Singer, a former Victoria's Secret executive, assumed the CEO role in February with a mandate to return the company to its former success as the go-to place for the perfect weekend T-shirt or office blazer.
"The continued executive turnover at J.Crew adds to the turbulence of an already brutal year for the retailer," said Raya Sokolyanska, senior analyst with Moody's Investors Service Inc.
J.Crew brand sales fell 2% to $516.8 million in the three months to Feb. 1, the last quarter for which the company reported financial results. Madewell sales increased 13% to $178.1 million in the period.
Earlier this year, J.Crew planned to spin off Madewell into a separate publicly traded company and use the proceeds to pay down debt from a 2010 leveraged buyout by the private-equity firms TPG Capital and Leonard Green & Partners. But those plans were put on hold this spring as the pandemic forced temporary closure of stores, sapping sales.
Ms. Singer's departure marks the second time the chief executive of a company has swiftly exited after Anchorage's Mr. Ulrich assumed the board chairman role.
In 2018, employees and investors in Hollywood studio MGM Holdings Inc. were surprised by the ouster of entertainment veteran Gary Barber just five months after the board renewed his contract and soon after Mr. Ulrich became board chair.
The Wall Street Journal reported at the time that Mr. Barber was blindsided by the news.
MGM has remained without a chief executive since Mr. Barber's termination.