Ralph Lauren taps its first CMO
Ralph Lauren Corporation has hired two new senior executives, further solidifying its leadership team in support of its Way Forward Plan, the company said Thursday. Jonathan Bottomley has been named chief marketing officer, a newly created role responsible for evolving Ralph Lauren’s brand voice, leading the global marketing team and building cut-through marketing strategies across brands; he begins work April 3.
Bottomley, most recently chief strategy officer of virtue, a Vice Media Company, also previously served as chief strategy officer and managing partner in the London headquarters of U.K. ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, where he led strategic brand-building efforts for clients across the luxury and consumer lifestyle sectors.
Tom Mendenhall has been named brand president for Men’s Polo, Purple Label and Double RL, also a newly created role overseeing all men’s brand functions, including design and merchandising. He will be charged with maximizing brand strength to improve sales growth. Mendenhall, recently chief operating officer at Tom Ford International, previously held executive roles at Abercrombie & Fitch and Gucci.
In the midst of its so-called “Way Forward” turnaround plan, Ralph Lauren is still in search of a CEO to replace president and CEO Stefan Larsson, who has been with the company for just over a year and is scheduled to depart May 1. In the meantime, it's beefing up its marketing efforts as it contemplates a focus on retail sales.
The brand's turnaround plan includes a pullback from department stores in favor of digital sales, a bolstering of flagship store sales (despite a closure of underperforming stores, some 10% of the fleet) and a move to emphasize best-selling styles as well as provide more “see now, buy now” opportunities for customers.
In his statement Thursday, founder Ralph Lauren said that his new executives’ brand experience will be invaluable as the company pivots. Notably, both men have experience with higher-end brands than does Larsson, who hailed from Gap’s lower-priced Old Navy unit and, earlier, Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M.
“As we write our next chapter, we continue to add exceptionally strong leaders with the passion, energy, and talent to lead our company into the future,” Lauren said. “Both Jonathan and Tom bring a fresh perspective and incredible depth of brand experience to Ralph Lauren. They each have impressive track records and we are looking forward to welcoming them into our leadership as our evolution continues.”
Ralph Lauren is a wholesale business at its core, and Larsson lacked the experience needed to excel in that mold, argues Howard Davidowitz, chairman of New York City-based retail consulting and investment banking firm Davidowitz & Associates Inc. "[T]his is a business built around Ralph. It would have been difficult for anyone, but much more difficult for Larsson, who was stepping into something totally new — and a company that needed to be reinvigorated," he told Retail Dive earlier this year. "You're Ralph, and here comes this guy who wants to change everything. This was inevitable, if you think of it.”
The shift from that core wholesale position and Larsson’s departure are “concerning,” according to Cowen & Co. retail analyst John Kernan, according to an investors note cited by Ad Age. "We think a new CEO will likely want to imprint their own vision," Kernan wrote. "Potentially pushing ROI prospects out further.”
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