Quite possibly the most popular person at the second annual Main & Wall conference was Marla Schaefer, former co-chairman and co-CEO of Claire’s Stores, Inc., and now a member of David N. Deutch & Co.’s Presidents Council. Certainly she was the person that other retailers appeared most eager to speak with during the informal networking breaks.
CEOs wanted to hear how Marla and her sister, Bonnie, took command of the successful fashion-accessories company built by their father, Rowland. But even more, Main & Wall attendees wanted to know the exit strategy that enabled the Schaefers to walk away from the company with no regrets and a reputation for professionalism that made the $3.1 billion sale of Claire’s the quintessential model of how to exit a company with style. Private-equity firm Apollo Management purchased Claire’s in 2003.
In a panel discussion moderated by David N. Deutsch, conference chair and president of David N. Deutsch & Co., New York City, Schaefer told highlights of their story.
“Our father was a classic one-man-show entrepreneur. He opened stores all over the world through acquisitions and franchise deals, but he didn’t [appreciate] the need for succession planning,” she said. “Six months after Bonnie and I took over, we were saying, ‘Where did he get the energy for all this?’”
To transition the company forward, Schaefer had to identify and fortify opportunities for improvement within the corporate structure and she had to convince her father of the value of succession planning. The former was much easier than the latter.
“No one wants to buy a business that doesn’t have the appropriate infrastructure and succession plans in place,” Schaefer noted. “We had a wonderful technology department, but we needed another platform. We actually purchased and implemented a new POS system because the business had to keep going as usual. Also, we had great [expansion] opportunities in the Middle East, Russia and Poland, and our joint venture in Japan needed attention.”
Continuing to invest in the company, grow the business and plan for the future were necessary steps in the overall exit strategy. As Schaefer explained, “The things we