Raff submits her resignation as Zale Corp. Chair and CEO

Beryl B. Raff resigned suddenly on Monday as chairman and chief executive officer of Zale Corp., the world’s largest jewelry retailer. It came only six months after her appointment to the posts in August 2000. Robert J. DiNicola, the architect of Zale’s return to profitability and industry leadership in the 1990s, will return as chairman and chief executive officer on Feb. 21. Until then, Richard Marcus will serve as interim chairman. Marcus has been on Zale’s Board of Directors since 1993 and chairs its Compensation Committee. He issued a statement thanking Raff ”for her contributions to Zale’s success’ and wishing ‘her success in her future endeavors.”

A Zale spokesperson said Raff left to ”devote more time to her family and her own personal interests.” However, some financial analysts suggest there may also have been dissatisfaction by Zale’s board of directors with the company’s recent performance, especially over the Christmas holiday.

Zale Corp. enjoyed double-digit growth in comparable store sales until a few months ago when, like much of the retail trade, it began to see a slowdown. It had a 3.1% decrease in comparable store sales for November and December, compared to a 16.3% gain for the same period in 1999. Shortly after Christmas, Zale warned that net income for its second quarter (ended Jan. 31) would be less than analysts expected. Comparable store sales for the second quarter declined 2.3% compared to a 14.7% gain last year. Last month, Zale also said that earnings per share for the year (ending July 31) would rise less than the 20%, previously predicted.

Zale Corp. now says it will delay release of its official second quarter earnings, originally set for Feb. 14, until Mar. 7.

Raff, 50, was the first woman to head Zale and one of the few top women executives in the retail jewelry industry and one of the few running a publicly traded company.

Raff joined Zale in 1994, when DiNicola-a former Federated Department Stores executive hired to restore Zales’ fortunes following bankruptcy reorganization-recruited her from R.H. Macy & Co., where she headed the jewelry business in a 12-state region. She was named president of Zales Jewelers, the company’s flagship chain. In 1997, she was appointed executive vice president and chief operating officer of Zale Corp., and in September 1999, chief executive officer. Last August, she was named board chairwoman, succeeding DiNicola-her friend and mentor-who, retired but remained a member of the Zale board of directors.

Raff is the second Zale executive to leave recently.

Last week, Philip Diehl, who was in charge of Zale’s e-commerce operations, left the company, say company officials. Diehl, former director of the U.S. Mint, joined Zale in last March.