Exec Changes at Lands' End

The sudden departure of the president/CEO and a high-level sales executive at Lands' End this week came as a surprise to industry watchers.

The company announced Oct. 28 that Michael J. Smith, who had been president/CEO since December 1994, will be replaced by David F. Dyer, 49. As part of the transition, William E. Ferry, vice chairman of sales, also left the company.

Dyer, who had worked for Lands' End from 1989 to 1994 — originally as director of the business unit that launched the company's Coming Home catalog and later in high-level merchandising roles — is scheduled to arrive at the company's Dodgeville, WI, headquarters to assume his new duties this week, said Charlotte LaComb, Lands' End manager of investor relations.

The move initially appeared to be a knee-jerk reaction to a slight second-quarter loss and a few quarters of slower earnings, said Bill Dean, president of W.A. Dean & Associates, San Francisco, a consulting firm.

“Neither I nor any of the analysts I have spoken to who follow the company had expected a change of that nature in this stage of the game, three-fourths of the way through the year,” he said. “It makes you wonder if there is bad news in store when the third quarter ends.”

LaComb would not comment on third-quarter results or analysts' expectations and would say only that the management decisions were made by the company's board of directors.

“While it may be a surprise to Lands' End and to the public, the board takes great care in making decisions and this was not made suddenly,” she said. “The board was looking forward to the long-term interests of the company and to the state of the industry, the state of the economy and the state of our competitiveness. They felt they needed new leadership. Dave Dyer is a great merchant and a great manager, and the board feels he will be able to take the company forward.”

The news was particularly surprising considering the company has a large international operation, and financial results from international operations have faltered because of economic conditions overseas. Dean noted that the company has a history of reacting quickly to bad news. However, he said Dyer has a strong name in the industry.

“He has a reputation as a good merchant, and it's a merchandising-driven company,” he said.

Dyer served as president/CEO of the Home Shopping Network from August 1994 until August 1995. For the past few years, he has been a catalog/retail consultant, working most recently with the Texas Pacific Group, San Francisco, and the J. Crew Group, New York.

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