Friedman’s chairman to step down; CFO is replaced; two other positions filled

Friedman’s Inc. Executive Chairman Allan Edwards will resign at the end of his term in January, 2005, the company said Friday in a statement. Richard Hettlinger, Friedman’s CFO, left the company on Friday after holding the job a little more than a month. Ken Maher, a furniture company executive, was named interim CFO by the company’s board of directors.

In addition, the board named Peter Thorner to serve in the newly created position of vice chairman of the board. Thorner has served on the Savannah-based company’s board since October, 2004.

Edwards came to Friedman’s in May in the midst of federal investigations for alleged fraud by the Securities Exchange Commission and Justice Department. The investigations are the result of August, 2003, lawsuit filed against Friedman’s Inc. and several other companies by receivables factoring company Capital Factors for alleged misrepresentation of the accounts receivable of Cosmopolitan Gem Corp., a Bangkok jewelry maker and a former vendor.

During the seven months Edwards served as chairman, the company has undergone significant changes, including hiring new management, refinancing the company’s credit facility, and leading the development of a trade creditor support program.

He also led a restructuring of Friedman’s board in recent months. Including Edwards and a Class A director, six out of seven directors have been newly appointed to Friedman’s board, a majority of which is independent.

“Important progress has been made in assembling new management at Friedman’s,” Edwards said in the company statement. “I feel that the company has made significant strides and that I can now step back from the executive chairman position with the knowledge that we have senior management in place to move the company forward.”

“Allan has absolutely devoted himself to Friedman’s over the past several months,” said board member Sheldon Whitehouse. “He has assembled a high-quality board and management and has jump-started the process of rebuilding Friedman’s credibility. I think Allan deserves a great deal of credit for leading Friedman’s in the right direction.”

The company said that it plans to actively seek a new chairman.

Hettlinger was hired by the retailer as its CFO on Nov. 2. He replaced Richard Cartoon, who resigned in May after five months as CFO. Before joining Friedman’s, he served as CFO of The Walking Company. He also served as CFO of Paul Harris Stores, and three divisions of The May Department Stores: the Famous-Barr Company, L.S. Ayres and M. O’Neil Company, as well as serving as president and CEO of Heartland Industries.

Maher, the new interim CFO, brings over twenty years of retail and financial experience to Friedman’s. He most recently served as vice president and controller of Wickes Furniture, a furniture distribution and retailing company.

The company also announced that Steve Zeringue has joined Friedman’s as vice president of credit. Zeringue is a credit specialist with more than 15 years of retail credit and financial experience. He joins Friedman’s from Certegy Payment Recovery Services, where he was vice president of collections. Prior to Certegy, Zeringue served as director of credit risk for Heilig Meyers Furniture, and assistant VP of credit for Service Merchandise.