Zale’s Outside Play

When former Children’s Place president Neal Goldberg became president and CEO of Zale Corp., an eyebrow or two was raised over someone without any jewelry experience taking over America’s largest jeweler.

Well, looking at the latest Zale personnel shake-up, it is clear that 2008-model Zale is not afraid of recruiting outsiders. In fact, if you look at the company’s top brass, it is now predominantly jewelry business outsiders.

 

The company’s new president, Theo Killion, joined Zale in January. He was previously with Tommy Hilfinger and Limited. (Before today’s news, Goldberg was president and CEO; he is now just CEO.)

 

Executive vice president/chief merchandising officer Mary Kwan, whose appointment was announced today, has worked for Goody’s Family Clothing, Lane Bryant, and Levi Strauss, but never in jewelry. (VP and treasurer David Sternblitz does note that Kwan’s parents owned a jewelry store.)

 

Newly promoted EVP/chief of marketing and e-commerce, Steve Larkin, joined the company in January 2006, and comes from Bench Mark and Shop NBC. And EVP/Chief stores officer William Acevedo, who was hired this year, comes from Banana Republic.

 

This is clearly an impressive line-up of experienced retail people. But they are not jewelry people.  

 

The sole Zale veteran in a top slot is EVP/chief sourcing officer Gil Hollander, who comes from Piercing Pagoda.

 

Sternblitz told me: “Neal wanted people with a strong retail background. He saw very little differentiation in the jewelry business. He wanted people with a fresh perspective that could integrate a number of different perspectives.”

 

That point about differentiation is well taken. Clearly, jewelry retail – and particularly mass jewelry retail – needs some shaking up and fresh blood. And keep in mind that Robert DiNicola, who was generally considered a successful CEO of Zale, was also from outside the industry.

But DiNicola aside, the track record of new people coming into the business has generally been pretty mixed. So it will be fascinating to see whether this new band of outsiders truly results in any real changes – and whether those changes are for the good.

JCK News Director