Pressler, Paul S. 1956–
Paul S. Pressler
President and chief executive officer, Gap
Born: 1956, in New York.
Education: State University of New York at Oneonta, BA, 1978.
Family: Married Mindy (maiden name unknown); children: two.
Career: New York City, late 1970s, urban planner; Remco Toys; Mego Toys; Kenner-Parker Toys, 1982–1987, vice president of marketing and design; Walt Disney Company, 1987–1990, senior vice president for product licensing; 1990–1992, senior vice president for consumer products; Disney Stores, 1992–1994, executive vice president and general manager; Disneyland Parks and Hotels, 1994–1998, president; Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, 1998–2000, president; 2000–2002, president and chairman; Gap, 2002–, president and chief executive officer.
■ Having proved himself a competent and successful leader in several positions at the Disney Corporation, Paul S. Pressler made a controversial move to take over operations at Gap. Because of his lack of fashion experience, some doubted his ability to change the direction of the retailer that had experienced 29 straight months of sales losses. However, Pressler used his open management style and innovative ideas based on market research and the expertise of his employees not only to turn the company around but to add new chances for growth into Gap's future plans.
FROM TOYS TO THEME PARKS
into the business world was as an urban planner for New York City. He stayed there for a short time before he moved over into the toy business. He worked for both Remco Toys and Mego Toys before he was hired by Kenner-Parker Toys as the vice president of marketing and design in 1982. At Kenner-Parker he made his mark by guiding the company successfully in its marketing of the popular Care Bears line.
Pressler's achievements with the Care Bears marketing campaign were noticed by Disney, which offered him a position as the senior vice president for product licensing in 1987. Pressler accepted the job, starting his 15-year relationship with the company. He held a multitude of positions with Disney over the years, including senior vice president for all consumer products and executive vice president and general manager of Disney Stores. While Pressler held the latter position, the number of Disney Stores increased and sales steadily improved, largely because of Pressler's idea of making each store a mini-Disneyland, giving each customer a fantastical shopping experience. In 1994 Pressler was chosen to head the Disneyland parks and hotels in Anaheim, California, and in 1998 he was promoted to president of Disney theme parks and resorts worldwide. Pressler's success in raising profits and making the Disney brand popular to people of all ages made many analysts think he might one day take over Michael Eisner's position at the top.
A FASHION SENSE
In 2002, however, Pressler made a move that was considered by some to be foolish: he took over the presidency of Gap. In fact, Pressler was criticized when he took over operations at Gap because he lacked fashion experience. Gap Inc. owned The Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy chains. The company's previous chief executive, Millard Drexler, was known for his top-down style of management: he thought up the ideas and the company followed his word. Pressler came into the company with a different approach, caring much less about his personal tastes and instincts and much more about data from market research. He stated openly that he would not be doing any of the design work; he hired experts to take care of that end of the business for him. He also became known for his willingness to experiment, even holding a fashion show in which actors and actresses dressed in Gap's newest lines and posed on stage at a nightclub. He kept out of the limelight, sharing the credit for the store's turnaround with his entire staff, especially the designers, whose work he began to showcase.
When Pressler took over Gap, the company was in enormous debt, having spent almost two and a half years in sales declines. One of the first things Pressler did as president and CEO was to reestablish the firm's brands. The three stores, the Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy, had begun to blur together, losing their distinct personalities. Pressler resolved to sharpen eash store's focus. "In Banana Republic, it meant some reinvention…. In the case of Gap, it was clearly going back to our heart and soul, and in the case of Old Navy, it was about driving deeper to take share from our value sector," Pressler was quoted in Women's Wear Daily (April 20, 2004). Pressler hoped that his branding efforts would lower the Gap's enormous debt. He began a companywide makeover that would take a year before showing results.
In February 2003 Pressler was named one of the people to watch by Fortune magazine. By that time he had managed to reverse Gap's sales decline. Things were looking up for company, and Pressler's one-time critics were beginning to change their opinions about his ability to succeed at Gap. Don Fisher, the chairman of the board of Gap, was quoted by Women's Wear Daily as saying, "We've changed a lot in the past year. We've hired a new CEO, strengthened our board and dramatically improved our performance. Paul Pressler has done a terrific job in his first year as CEO, and I'm more confident than ever about our company's long-term prospects" (December 10, 2003).
The first test of Pressler's success occurred in 2003 when the first line of clothes that his team had come up with hit the stores. The fall line centered on colorful corduroys and had a marketing campaign centered on celebrities like Madonna and Missy Elliott. Pressler got a big break when a picture of Madonna, decked out in Gap clothing, was chosen to be the cover of the September issue of Harper's Bazaar. The line was an instant success, and Pressler's fitness for the positions of president and CEO of Gap were no longer derided.
WIDENING THE GAP
In 2004 Pressler and his team researched opportunities for acquiring stores. They were also interested in more international expansion and continued to extend existing brands. In June 2004 Pressler managed to secure popular actress Sarah Jessica Parker to lead Gap's 35th anniversary campaign. At the Credit Suisse First Boston retail conference in New York, Pressler announced that part of Gap's growth plans for the future included pursuing stores that focused on markets different from those in Gap's range.
See also entries on The Walt Disney Company and The Gap, Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Bermudez, Andrea, Evan Clark, and Dan Burrows, "Can Pressler Revive Gap?" Daily News Record, September 30, 2002.
Bhatnagar, Parija, "Gap CEO Talks of New Concepts," CNN/Money, June 15, 2004, http://www.moneymag.com/2004/06/15/news/fortune500/gap.
Brady, Diane, "Gap: Dressed to Thrill Investors?" BusinessWeek, October 30, 2003, http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/oct2003/nf20031030_6616_db014.htm.
——, "Trying Not to Be a Fashion Victim," BusinessWeek, October 6, 2003, p. 112.
Buckley, Neil, "Snazzy Colours Take Gap into the Black," Financial Times, August 18, 2003, p. 38.
Foley, Bridget, and Kristin Young, "Gap, Banana: The Big Makeover," Women's Wear Daily, April 20, 2004.
Moin, David, "Handover at Gap Inc.: Fisher to Step Down, Son to Take New Role," Women's Wear Daily, December 10, 2003.
"People to Watch," Fortune, February 3, 2003, http://www.fortune.com/fortune/peopletowatch/snapshot/0,16431,6,00.html.
Rozhon, Tracie, "Gap's Chief Nurtures Low Profile and High Sales Curve," International Herald Tribune, May 4, 2004.
Sellers, Patricia, "Gap's New Guy Upstairs," Fortune, April 14, 2003, p. 110.
Smith, Stephanie D., "Changing of the Guard: New Gap CEO Paul Pressler Is Whipping the Flabby Retail Giant Back into Fighting Shape," Money, April 1, 2003, p. 61.
Stone, Brad, "Filling in the Gap: Can a Disney Veteran Fix the Troubled Retail Chain?" Newsweek, October 7, 2002, p. 48.
"Update 1: Gap's Revving Up the Growth Engine," America's Intelligence Wire, May 20, 2004.
Watters, Susan, "Gap's Fisher Lauds Pressler," Women's Wear Daily, May 5, 2003.
Wee, Heesun, "The Challenge in Store for Gap," October 9, 2002, http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/oct2002/nf2002109_2824.htm.
Young, Vicki M., "Proposal Would Tighten Gap CEO Pay Package," Women's Wear Daily, March 31, 2004.
—Catherine Victoria Donaldson