As you may know, last week was a busy one for Liz Claiborne Inc. We reported our first quarter earnings, and we also held an investor conference to share our plans and goals for the year ahead.
There were two different general reactions to these activities. The analysts that have followed our company wrote insightful reports on the current situation and our outlook. But some of you may have also seen reports from our critics out there, whether in the media or the industry. Unfortunately, and to our collective dismay, many critics seem to be primarily interested in making personal attacks on our management or board or rewriting or misrepresenting  our corporate history—rather than taking a close look at our strategy for the future.

 Without getting bogged down in the details, some of the recently circulated misstatements and misconceptions demand immediate correction.   Most flow from an Internet blog report whose errors were cited in the New York Post.
For example:
  • Throughout our turnaround, we have consistently hired industry veterans—skewing toward leadership experience in vertical retailing as opposed to wholesale alone. These include senior executives such as Craig Leavitt, Deborah Lloyd, LeAnn Nealz, Peter Warner, and Thomas Grote, among literally dozens more at various levels throughout the Company. Moreover, one blog refers to our Lucky Brand CEO Dave DeMattei as a former Williams Sonoma executive in an effort to discredit his experience, failing to reference his more than 20 years of experience at Coach, J. Crew, Banana Republic  and the Gap. 
  • Again, contrary to reports, the Liz Claiborne brand was always considered part of “partnered brands” under the current management and was noted as such in our first presentation in July, 2007.
  • The report misrepresents our strategy for the Liz Claiborne brand and provides an inaccurate timeline of events. The original JCPenney relationship for Liz & Co. was formed and announced under the previous management. In 2009, it became clear that the Macy’s-Liz Claiborne brand relationship no longer made sense given the challenges faced by the department store channel. Given Liz & Co.’s success at JCPenney we made the decision to exclusively license the brand to JCPenney.
  • Prior to the current management, the Company tested a Mexx U.S. retail strategy, but it was unsuccessful and discontinued.  Current management has never announced any plan to offer the Mexx brand in the U.S.
  • When we undertook our portfolio review in early 2007, we worked with numerous consultants and advisors, all of whom agreed the best approach was to disclose the planned sale of 16 of our wholesale brands in July, 2007. The divesture of those brands improved our financial position and helped limit our exposure to a drastically declining department store channel during the financial downturn.
  • Finally, and amazingly, the Internet report writer never bothered to take the time to call us at the Company for input or comments. We think this violation of journalistic responsibility and basic fairness calls into question the writer’s judgment and suggests, at a minimum, potential bias.
Now, let me briefly turn to what we believe the industry, the media and investors ought to focus on, all of which we addressed on our Investor Day last Thursday:
  • kate spade continues to grow rapidly, with the potential to become a billion dollar brand.
  • Lucky Brand Jeans is showing initial signs of a turnaround.
  • International expansion plans for kate spade and Juicy Couture have the potential to dramatically expand our business.
  • Mexx continues to lose money as an operation, but is showing high growth in wholesale, putting it on a path to profitability.
  • The Liz Claiborne brand re-launch at JCPenney and QVC has been a big success, and partnered brands is now positioned to make money in 2011.
  • We have taken active steps to improve the “optionality” of our business, whether it comes to joint ventures, licensing or other ways to monetize our assets.
For those interested, our Investor Day presentation is available at: http://lizclaiborneinc.com/web/guest/investorrelations
We understand, of course, that our turnaround has taken longer than anticipated, and we welcome our critics’ productive challenges of our strategies, management and execution. We can only learn from them. We hope, however, that some of the louder voices take some time away from the search for scapegoats or making personal attacks so they can give our plans a fair shake.
If they do, we believe they will recognize we have a very strong and experienced team and strategy in place to complete our turnaround. We have set the stage for our brands to grow, domestically and internationally, with a particular focus on direct to consumer retailing domestically and on the rapidly expanding Asian consumer markets of tomorrow.
Bill McComb
Liz Claiborne Inc.

May 3, 2011