The Player: Calhoun takes up challenge to revamp Banana Republic

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For most of its time as a leading retailer, Gap Inc. has carefully honed its image through its in-house resources, starting from the design of its clothing to the look of its ads. But that may change soon as Jack Calhoun, Banana Republic's new chief marketing officer, takes over.

Mr. Calhoun was one of the first marketing hires by former Walt Disney Co. executive Paul Pressler, who took over as Gap Inc. president-CEO last fall, succeeding Millard "Mickey" Drexler. One of Mr. Pressler's first acts was to hire Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, to oversee segmentation studies of the three Gap brands, including Banana Republic and Old Navy. Mr. Calhoun will report to newly hired Banana Republic President Marka Hansen, most recently Gap's head of adult merchandising.

The Banana Republic makeover will be the second in the history of the chain, which started out as a travel catalog and opened safari-themed stores with beat-up jeeps in its storefronts. After the chain was purchased by Gap Inc., Mr. Drexler, known for his ability to spot fashion trends, remade it into an upscale version of Gap.

But in recent months, Banana Republic's buzz has quieted and sales have not recovered at a pace that's up to speed with siblings Old Navy and Gap. "The challenge for Banana is the repetition of the fashion lines [with lower-priced sibling Gap], and marginal quality for the price," said Burt Flickinger, managing director, Strategic Resource Group/Flickinger Consulting, New York.

Mr. Calhoun said he and Gap management are carefully building a new positioning for Banana Republic, which traditionally had advertising echoing that of the lower-priced Gap.

"We want to build an architecturally sound and beautiful house," said Mr. Calhoun of the makeover. "We don't want a Cape Cod with a lot of additions."

agency experience

Mr. Calhoun, 38, a native of Lafayette, Ind., sang his way through Indiana University, studying to be an opera singer. When he came to realize he might not be able to make a living on stage, he looked to business, eventually earning a Harvard M.B.A. He's worked at Procter & Gamble Co. and at Levi Strauss & Co., and is a veteran of several San Francisco ad agencies, including Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, now part of Interpublic Group of Cos., Citron Haligman Bedecarre, now A.K.Q.A., and WPP Group's Young & Rubicam. Most recently, he was Charles Schwab's exec VP-brand management and advertising, where he managed an in-house agency with an outside shop, Omnicom Group's BBDO, New York.

Those experiences leave him disinclined to hold an agency review. "I'm not a big review person. I didn't like it from either side of the fence." His jobs however, have given him confidence he can manage the coordination of in-house and outside agencies.

"We have a dream brand and we should take it to its limit," he said. Consumers will start to see some of Banana Republic's new direction this fall. The retailer could return to TV after a hiatus of a couple of years, he said.

Fast Facts

Name: Jack Calhoun

Age: 38

Now: Chief marketing officer, Banana Republic

Challenge: To position Banana Republic for growth that keeps pace with Gap Inc.'s other divisions.

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