Ralph Lauren will step down as chief executive officer of the company he founded almost half a century ago, handing the reins to Stefan Larsson, a rising retail star credited with reviving Gap Inc.’s Old Navy brand.
While Lauren, 75, will remain with the company as executive chairman and chief creative officer, the switch brings a new leader to the company that started 48 years ago selling ties and made its founder into a global fashion icon. Larsson, 41, will take over the job in November and join the retailer’s board.
The upscale apparel company, known for Polo and other brands, has struggled recently as the rise of fast-fashion rivals, online retailers and economic weakness in Europe restrained its growth. Ralph Lauren’s shares, which declined 44 percent this year through Tuesday’s close, rose as much as 5.6 percent in late trading in New York after the leadership change was made public.
"This announcement took away some uncertainty, and the market is encouraged that Mr. Lauren is not stepping down, he is just becoming creative director,” Rick Snyder, an analyst at Odeon Capital Group, said in an interview. “Mr. Lauren will still be the creative force, but Mr. Larsson will take the reins.”
As part of the changes, Chief Operating Officer Jackwyn Nemerov will retire in November, New York-based Ralph Lauren Corp. said Tuesday in a statement.
At Gap, Larsson helped shape the value-focused Old Navy chain into the retailer’s star performer since becoming global president of the brand in 2012. Larsson, formerly at Hennes & Mauritz AB, drove sales at Old Navy with an operating model that systematically identifies trends, develops versatile fabrics for the products, tests the items in stores, then ramps up marketing and production. Comparable sales at Old Navy have outstripped the company’s Gap and Banana Republic brands for the past six quarters.
"Stefan Larsson is exceptionally talented, and he will bring our company a fresh and exciting global perspective," Lauren said in the statement. "Stefan and I have a strong personal bond and share a vision for the future of Ralph Lauren."
Since Lauren founded the company, the enterprise has expanded into a full clothing retailer and has become what’s known as a lifestyle brand, with its name on products ranging from table linens to diaper bags. Sales last year rose 2.3 percent to $7.62 billion.
Given that he’s staying on as creative director and executive chairman, Lauren likely made the decision to relinquish the CEO job on his own, said Pat Cook, CEO of Cook & Co., an executive-search firm. The board also likely conveyed that he needed to do some succession planning because of his age, she said.
"I bet he stays on as creative director as long as he’s vertical," Cook said. "No one can replicate his style."
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