Wachner, Linda Joy

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WACHNER, LINDA JOY (1946– ), U.S. apparel industry executive. Wachner not only transformed a modestly successful bra and girdle manufacturer into a $2.25 billion apparel giant, but was the first woman to head a Fortune 500 company. She was born in Manhattan, the daughter of Herman Wachner, a furrier, and his wife, Shirley, a saleswoman at Saks Fifth Avenue, and raised in Queens. When she was 11, severe scoliosis put her in a full-body cast for a year, an experience, she says, that developed her tenacious nature and taught her to be self-reliant. She graduated from high school at 16, then earned a B.S. in economics and business at the University of Buffalo in 1966. After joining Associated Merchandising Corp., a New York City buying office for department stores, at $90 a week, she became an assistant buyer at Foley's, a store in Houston, Texas, in 1968. A year later, she was a bra buyer at R.H. Macy's in New York City. In 1973, she met and married Seymour Appelbaum, a man 31 years her senior. In 1974, she joined Warnaco, becoming a vice president in 1975. In 1978, she was recruited to run the U.S. division of Max Factor, a money-losing cosmetics company. Wachner cut costs, laid people off, and produced a $5 million operating profit in her second year. In 1983, Wachner's husband, who had a serious heart condition, died. Wachner tried to buy the Max Factor business, but her offer was rejected and she was forced out. Eager to run her own show, Wachner engineered a $550 million hostile take-over of Warnaco in 1986 and quickly began to remake the 113-year-old company, which had a stable of prestigious brand names but did not market them effectively. Annual volume was $425 million when Wachner took over. Becoming chief executive in 1987 and chairman in 1991 – the year she took the company public – she was called "America's most successful businesswoman" by Fortune magazine. The same publication also anointed her one of America's "toughest bosses." In 1997, Wachner acquired Designer Holdings, a company licensed to make Calvin *Klein jeans. A year later, Warnaco business began to suffer, a victim of dwindling demand for its products, lower market share, a weakening economy, and several problematic licensing deals. In addition, Wachner's difficult personality was blamed for many top managers leaving the company. Perhaps most important was a nasty, headline-making fight with Calvin Klein over the way his jeans, which accounted for 25 percent of Warnaco's overall sales, were made and marketed. Klein said Warnaco was not only selling the high-prestige jeans to low-end discount houses, but altering designs and skimping on quality. Wachner counter-sued and a settlement was reached in January 2001. Warnaco stock, which had traded at $44 a share in 1998, was down to 39 cents a share in 2001, and Wachner's personal stake in the firm had fallen from some $200 million to $1.8 million. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2001 (emerging in 2003) and Wachner was fired. She sued for $25 million in severance pay, but settled for $452,000.

[Mort Sheinman (2nd ed.)]