2 executives leading J.Crew’s turnaround have left the business, and analysts say it leaves the store in a worrying position

J.Crew added plus-sizes in July. Facebook/J.Crew
  • J.Crew announced that CEO Jim Brett would be stepping down from the company after just 17 months in the role. Its chief marketing officer, Vanessa Holden, also recently announced her departure.
  • These two executives were leading the charge in J.Crew’s turnaround effort by lowering prices, adding plus-sizes, selling clothing on Amazon, and launching a new diversity-driven campaign.
  • GlobalData Retail’s Neil Saunders writes that there are now concerns that J.Crew’s team of executives, who are acting as interim CEO, will reverse these changes and undo all the progress it has made.

Over the weekend, J.Crew announced that its CEO Jim Brett would be stepping down from the company after just 17 months in the role. Brett is joined by Vanessa Holden, the company’s chief marketing officer who ran the company’s newest ad campaign. She leaves after 16 months in the job.

These two executives had been leading the charge in J.Crew’s turnaround efforts after several years of flagging sales. The store had been accused of becoming unaffordable and impractical under the leadership of its former CEO, Mickey Drexler, and longtime creative director, Jenna Lyons.

To combat this, Brett lowered prices, added plus-sizes, and most recently started selling its low-cost Mercantile collection on Amazon. Holden was responsible for rolling out a new diversity-driven campaign this September.

Read more:
J.Crew is the latest retailer to start selling on Amazon after saying it wouldn’t

In a statement to the press on Saturday, Brett hinted at a potential clash with the board as the reason behind his departure.

“The Board and I were unable to bridge our beliefs on how to continue to evolve all aspects of the Company,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal later confirmed these suspicions.

Sources familiar with the matter told The Journal that Drexler took issue with Brett’s decision to start selling clothing on Amazon as well as his plans to grow the company’s budget line, J.Crew Mercantile.

Drexler, who famously said the company would never sell on Amazon, was concerned that these moves would cheapen the brand. The tensions came to a head in a recent board meeting, sources said.

Now analysts are wondering whether the team of four executives acting as interim CEO will undo some of the changes that helped to bring the company back to positive same-store sales growth after four years of declines.

“The departure of Jim Brett is worrying as it leaves J.Crew leaderless at a time when it desperately needs a focused effort to rebuild sales and reconnect with consumers,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, wrote in a note to clients.

Saunders said that under Brett, the company started to recover but was “nowhere near back to full strength.”

The former management team were “divorced from the realities of the retail marketplace” and “seemed to cling to the notion that J.Crew was a top-notch brand that deserved to charge top-notch prices – even when customers thought otherwise,” he added.

“If the departure of Jim Brett hails the return of these unrealistic attitudes, J.Crew is going to slip back and undo all of the progress made to date.”