Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Same Question, Different Answer - Reflecting on Recent Interview with J. Crew's CEO

I recently read an interview in the Financial Times with J. Crew’s CEO, Mickey Drexler.  This interview was of particular interest given the reporter’s focus on one question she asked Mickey - “ What was your biggest mistake?”  As Mickey would say, "Love that question!"

Back when I interviewed Mickey at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, I asked him this very question.  Although I don’t think it’s unusual for executives to be asked similar questions by various interviewers, I did find it interesting how differently Mickey answered this question in these two separate instances.

During my interview with Mickey, although he took a few pauses or moments to reflect during the actual taping of the interview, he did eventually answer the question.  He described his greatest career mistake as when he tried to change something too quickly or when clothing items were redesigned too aggressively.   More recently, he recounted his greatest mistake to be when J. Crew a few seasons ago lost its way creatively, getting too trendy and swaying from its core designs.

However, the answer Mickey provided – to the same question – was drastically different when talking to the Financial Times.  Maybe it’s a coincidence, but after reportedly reading the news about Gap closing a bunch of stores in the US, he told the FT reporter his biggest mistake was not fighting the board hard enough to stop the increase in real estate - a move Mickey opposed, but went along with.

Does a mistake only become a mistake when your executive decision at the time is later reversed?


1 comment:

  1. Syd, you raise a great question. I think, upon watching the Drexler interview video, that he is touching on two types of mistakes there and in the FT. One is the immediately visible mistake (the "too fashiony" J Crew story). It was realized quickly and they changed course. The other is the mistake that becomes meaningful in retrospect.

    I am assuming here that Drexler is not engaging in any revisionist history when he says he objected to the board decision to increase the Gap's real estate portfolio (he's human, after all, and we all tend to give ourselves a bit of extra credit in hindsight).

    Given that, he probably felt at the time that he didn't think it was a great decision, but that the consequences would not be significant.

    That, of course, turned out not to be the case. Gap's "over-storing" has been a major issue for them.

    As a result, Drexler's mistake looks more significant in hindsight, since other factors have made the consequences greater than anyone anticipated at the time.

    So I'm OK with both types of mistakes. What do you think?

    regards, John