Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Jeffries retires after controversial tenure

Abercrombie & Fitch's longtime CEO Michael Jeffries is retiring, effective immediately, as the once-hip teen clothing chain's sales decline. Abercrombie & Fitch has been looking to stock trendier clothing and  has even worked on stripping its once-prized Abercrombie logo off products.

Mark Lennihan/AP/File
Michael Jeffries, chairman and CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, speaks at the annual National Retail Federation conference in New York in 2009. Jeffries is retiring, effective immediately, the company announced Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014. Jeffries is also retiring from the retailer’s board of directors. Current Non-Executive Chairman Arthur Martinez will become Executive Chairman, and the company has started its search for a new CEO.

Abercrombie & Fitch's longtime CEO Michael Jeffries is retiring, effective immediately, as the once-hip teen clothing chain's sales decline.

Jeffries is also retiring from the retailer's board of directors. He has served as CEO since February 1992, according to CapitalIQ.

"It is impossible to overstate Mike Jeffries' extraordinary accomplishments in building Abercrombie & Fitch to the iconic status the brand now enjoys. From a standing start two decades ago, his creativity and imagination were the driving forces behind the company's growth and success. Going forward, we are confident in our talented senior leadership team and the steps we are taking to revitalize our brands and business," Ambercrombie's executive chairman Mike Martinez said in a statement. "We are also confident that our search will identify a new leader with the skills and expertise to enable Abercrombie & Fitch to capitalize fully on its growth opportunities and build shareholder value."

Mr. Jeffries said, "It has been an honor to lead this extraordinarily talented group of people.  I am extremely proud of your accomplishments.  I believe now is the right time for new leadership to take the Company forward in the next phase of its development," Jeffries said in a statement.

Abercrombie & Fitch has been looking to stock trendier clothing as its sales have weakened and teens have chosen to shop elsewhere. The company has even worked on stripping its once-prized Abercrombie logo off products as teens are now seeking more individuality in their clothing.

For the fall season, the company reduced its logoed merchandise by half and previously announced plans to try and have a very minimal North American logo business in the spring.

Abercrombie & Fitch has also increased its emphasis on online shopping as it looks to reshape itself.

Jeffries' 20-plus year stint as CEO was rife with controversy. In 2004, the company reached a $4 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit charging that it discriminated against minorities in its hiring procedures; the suit required A&F to put several policies in place to encourage building a more diverse workforce. 

In 2013, the CEO again came under fire for comments suggesting that plus-sized customers were unwelcome at the retailer. “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids,” Jeffries told Salon in 2006. “We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don't belong, and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

In other moves, the chain said that current Non-Executive Chairman Arthur Martinez will become executive chairman. He has served as non-executive chairman since January.

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. also said that its board has created an Office of the Chairman that will include Martinez, Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Ramsden, Christos Angelides, Brand President of Abercrombie & Fitch and Fran Horowitz, Brand President of Hollister.

The Office of the Chairman will be led by Martinez and will oversee Abercrombie & Fitch's strategic direction. It will also be responsible for managing the company's day-to-day operations until a new CEO is appointed.

The retailer — whose brands include abercrombie, Hollister Co. Gilly Hicks and its namesake — said that it has started a search for a new CEO.

Abercrombie & Fitch had 834 stores in the U.S. and 166 stores across Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East at the third quarter's end.

Shares of the New Albany, Ohio-based company rose 6.7 percent in Tuesday premarket trading.

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