Poor Holiday Season Pushes Retail Execs out the Door

AnnTaylor, the Limited and Sunglass Hut all said Monday top people were leaving.
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When Marcia Aaron, retail analyst at

Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown

, returned from a long ski weekend over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, her voice mail was clogged with messages from reporters. With a dismal holiday shopping season at many of the nation's top retailers, heads were starting to roll as three of the companies she follows announced high-level resignations.

It didn't stop there.

After

AnnTaylor

(ANN)

,

Limited's

(LTD)

Structure

division and

Sunglass Hut

(RAYS)

all said on Monday that top people were leaving, Wednesday brought another exit from a top executive at Limited.

"It was the most turnover I can recall. I think it's driven by the poor holidays," Aaron says, adding that with retailing companies demanding accountability for poor sales and flagging stock prices, the flurry of resignations may not be over.

Unlike Monday's departures, however, the resignation of Andrea Weiss, chief stores officer at Limited, is seen as a significant blow to the retailer, Aaron says.

"We believe that Ms. Weiss' departure was not performance-related and that her departure was voluntary. This is in contrast to our belief about other recent departures in the specialty apparel segment," Aaron wrote in a research note Wednesday.

Aaron said, however, that while Weiss was instrumental "in improving the overall operations at Limited," she "has built a strong team around her." Aaron rates the Limted a buy, and her company has no underwriting relationship with the retailer. Limited shares lately were trading up 25 cents at $17.69.

For those keeping score at home, here's a recap of Monday's resignations:

Patricia DeRossa, AnnTaylor's president and chief operating officer, resigned after the second consecutive disappointing holiday season at the women's apparel company. Ann Taylor shares lately were trading at $28.13, up 19 cents.

Peter Whitford, the president and chief executive officer at Structure, a men's apparel division of Limited, resigned. Whitford failed to turn around the brand, which has been struggling for some time, say analysts.

Sunglass Hut CEO John Watson resigned after a holiday season in which same-store sales rose a less-than-expected 5.9%. Of particular concern at the company is the performance of its watch business, which consistently missed targets in 2000. Sunglass Hut shares lately were up 88 cents at $5.97.