Struggling Talbots Seeks New CEO; Sullivan to Retire

Dec 07, 2011 1:06 AM  By

Troubled women’s apparel and accessories merchant The Talbots has hired executive search firm Spencer Stuart to find a replacement for company president/CEO Trudy Sullivan, who plans to retire after her successor is named.

Sullivan has served as CEO since August 2007 and was viewed as the person to change the fiscal fortunes of the company. She got rid of the men’s and children’s divisions and tried to breathe new life into the women’s offerings.

But Talbots and Sullivan have endured one difficulty after another trying to improve the business during the recession and its aftermath. The company has posted an annual loss in three of the past four years and is struggling to revive its brands and attract customers.

It lost $22 million in its most recent quarter, its third loss in the past four quarters. Included in its more recent quarterly filing is the company’s plan for a turnaround, which included job cuts, closing stores, trimming employees’ hours, suspending national advertising and TV campaigns for the short term and reducing inventory.

These cost-cutting measures could save $50 million a year.

Neil Stern, a retail analyst and senior partner for retail consultancy McMillan/Doolittle, says Talbots’ business has been difficult for many years now. “They are struggling, still, to find a relevant position in the marketplace. They grew too fast, diversified into newer areas that didn’t work (kids, men’s) and made some poorly timed acquisitions (J. Jill). They are paring the business back to its roots, cutting costs, but still need to effectively differentiate the brand.”

Talbots ran 551 stores in the U.S. and Canada at the third quarter’s end.

Talbots announced Sept. 7 it plans to close about a fifth of its stores– or about 110 stores through fiscal 2013 – bring in new merchandising and marketing talent and rework its product line to get customers back.

Jim Tierney ( is a senior writer for Multichannel Merchant. You can connect with him on Twitter (TierneyMCM) and LinkedIn or call him at 203-358-4265.