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How I Made It: Pacific Sunwear chief Gary Schoenfeld

Schoenfeld is trying to steer the surf and skate apparel company out from under a cloud.

February 06, 2011|By Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times
  • Pacific Sunwear CEO Gary Schoenfeld learned about retailing at an early age by watching his father run a sportswear and necktie company.
Pacific Sunwear CEO Gary Schoenfeld learned about retailing at an early… (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles…)

The gig: Chief executive of teen retailer Pacific Sunwear of California Inc. since 2009. The Anaheim seller of surf and skate apparel, which has reported sales declines and losses for the last nine quarters, is struggling to recover from the recession and has lost business to trendier competitors such as Forever 21, H&M and Aeropostale. PacSun has about 850 stores, most of them in malls.

First impressions: After being offered the PacSun job, "I went out and looked at some of the stores," Schoenfeld said. "I called back and said, 'No, thank you.' I didn't like what I saw." He said he was put off by the cluttered stores, excessive discounting and the lack of authentic surf and sports brands.

Change of heart: After meetings with several PacSun directors, "I was confident that the board understood the realities of what it would take to turn the business." To get to know the company, he visited stores in 18 states during his first year on the job.

Back to basics: Schoenfeld is in the midst of leading an aggressive turnaround strategy that includes emphasizing classic surf and skate brands, improving girls' styles and bringing back items such as footwear and accessories.

Like father, like son: Schoenfeld became interested in business and consumer brands at an early age by watching his father, Walter Schoenfeld, run a successful sportswear and necktie company. Starting when he was 14, the younger Schoenfeld spent six consecutive summers working for his father. "I always enjoyed listening to my dad talk about business and meeting people he was doing business with," Schoenfeld, 48, said.

Education: Bachelor's degree in economics from UCLA, MBA from Stanford University

Personal: A Seattle native, Schoenfeld lives in Brentwood with his wife, Michelle; two sons, ages 17 and 12; and a daughter, 15.

All in the family: His two older children have worked at PacSun; his daughter was up until 4 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving helping the company prepare for the Black Friday rush. "They tried as best they could to not let people know their last name," Schoenfeld said.

Lifelong businessman: After getting his MBA, Schoenfeld joined McCown De Leeuw & Co., a private equity firm, which acquired skate company Vans Inc. in 1988. Schoenfeld became executive vice president and chief operating officer of Vans in 1995 and two years later was promoted to CEO. More recently he was president and then co-CEO of Global Brands Group, a brand management and licensing company.

First big purchase: After Vans was acquired by VF Corp. in 2004, Schoenfeld took a break from working and moved his family to London for six months, repeating an experience that his own father had given him as a child. While overseas, Schoenfeld ran in the London Marathon and taught an entrepreneurship course at the London Business School. "We moved as a family experience and had nothing lined up," he said. "We felt like Magellan at the time."

Trend he won't be caught wearing: Skinny jeans. "I tried on three pairs and quickly decided that wasn't me," he said. "I'm not even sure at 16 I would have been cool enough to pull off skinny jeans."

On the competition: "I think of Forever 21 like Amazon in terms of changing the rules," Schoenfeld said of the Los Angeles fast-fashion, cheap-chic retailer. "I hardly see a girl between 15 and 30 who doesn't shop Forever 21."

Advice: "Success comes from working well with other people," he said. "Have ideas but be willing to listen to others. And typically there aren't any shortcuts — hard work and experience matter."

On his PacSun tenure so far: "The honest answer is I would have liked to have made more progress by now," he said. "I'm hopeful that we'll begin to see a demonstrable shift."

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