Mickey Drexler will step down as CEO next month and remain on the board as James Brett, president of West Elm, takes over.

(Bloomberg)—Mickey Drexler, the longtime chief of J. Crew Group Inc. who led the apparel chain through a leveraged buyout before struggling to cope with the rise of Amazon.com Inc., will hand the reins to a veteran of Williams-Sonoma Inc.’s West Elm.

The move is the most dramatic attempt yet to revive the fortunes of a storied retail brand that has seen sales swoon. Earlier this year, Drexler announced plans to shake up management and cut 250 jobs. As part of that overhaul, chief operating officer Michael Nicholson was put in charge of overseeing the J. Crew brand. J. Crew is No. 50 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500.

Adding to the turmoil, hedge funds that own J. Crew’s bonds have been jockeying to gain more control over a restructuring deal, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

In giving up the CEO job, Drexler is stepping back from a company he has controlled with often meticulous detail. In another seismic shift for J. Crew earlier this year, the apparel chain announced that creative director Jenna Lyons would leave by the en

James Brett

James Brett


d of 2017.

James Brett, West Elm’s president, will become CEO at J. Crew next month, according to a statement Monday. The 72-year-old Drexler, who ran the business for more than 14 years, will remain chairman. West Elm is part of Williams-Sonoma Inc. (No. 23).

“As chairman and an owner of the company, it is my responsibility to focus on the future of J. Crew and find the right leadership to execute on our strategic plans,” Drexler said in Monday’s statement.

Urban Outfitters

Brett was previously chief merchandising officer for Urban Outfitters (No. 40), and he held various roles at Anthropologie (part of Urban Outfitters), J.C. Penney Co. (No. 33) and May Department Stores Co.


Drexler come to J. Crew after turning around Gap Inc. (No. 24) in the 1990s. He also launched that company’s Old Navy division, which went on to become its biggest source of revenue.

Crew’s private equity investor TPG recruited Drexler to run the retailer in 2003. The executive invested $11 million of his own money in the business. In a 2011 buyout led by TPG, his stake was worth about $301 million—he pocketed $202 million of that and rolled the rest into an 8 percent stake, according to company filings.