Lillian: In or Out?

Following the May 30 announcement that investment firm Sun Capital Partners had bought gifts and housewares cataloger Lillian Vernon Corp. from Direct Holdings Worldwide, there have been conflicting media reports about the fate of founder Lillian Vernon.

Initially, it was reported that Vernon, who famously founded the catalog in 1951 using $2,000 in wedding-gift money, was out. Boca Raton, FL-based Sun Capital had immediately named Michael Muoio president/CEO, replacing Jonathan Shapiro as Lillian Vernon’s president.

But Muoio confirms to MULTICHANNEL MERCHANT that Vernon will be staying with the White Plains, NY-based company as a senior adviser and a nonexecutive chairperson. “Lillian Vernon is going to continue with the company. She will be advising me on merchandising and brand and the franchise,” Muoio says.

Muoio, who until his resignation this past October had been president/CEO of rival gifts cataloger Miles Kimball—which Sun Capital had owned for 18 months before selling it to manufacturer/marketer Blyth in March 2003—says that Lillian Vernon Corp. is “very excited” that its founder is staying on.

“We had a long lunch the other day, and she’s providing terrific insight and I think we see eye-to-eye on the business,” Muoio says of Vernon. “Her experience and leadership, in terms of what she’s done with this business over the years, is terrific, and I look forward to learning a lot from her.”

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