The German family that controls the Spiegel Group chose a Hamburg executive yesterday to head the catalogue company, which had been led by committee for several years.
Martin Zaepfel, a Spiegel board member since 1986 and director of marketing and advertising for Otto Versand, an affiliated German catalogue company, was named chief executive officer.
Zaepfel will relocate to Downers Grove, Ill., where the company is based, Spiegel said.
Zaepfel is replacing two long-time Spiegel executives, Michael Moran and James Sievers, who served as co-presidents since 1997 in an arrangement titled "office of the president." The office of the president at Spiegel will be abolished when Zaepfel takes over in July.
Three years ago some industry analysts criticized the concept of office of the president, which originally included a third Spiegel executive. Leadership by committee has been tried at other companies - including retailers J. C. Penney Co. and Nordstrom Inc. and most recently at automaker DaimlerChrysler - with little success.
Moran and Sievers oversaw a turbulent period at Spiegel. The company's financial performance improved, but its Eddie Bauer unit stumbled seriously. Meanwhile, the Spiegel Catalog continues to try to reinvent itself with new formats and merchandise.
Moran and Sievers will remain on the company's board, Spiegel said.
Spiegel's stock closed at $5.50 Wednesday, down 31 cents, far below its 52-week high of $14.93.
Spiegel's majority shareholder is the Otto family of Germany, which also controls Otto Versand, the world's largest catalogue company. In addition, Otto Versand holds a controlling stake in Crate & Barrel in Northbrook, Ill. Before Spiegel's troubles in the late 1990s, the Ottos had kept their hands off day-to-day operations, the same promise they have made to Crate & Barrel.
"We are now at a point where we believe the company would benefit from Martin's work experience with the Otto Group companies," said Michael Otto, chairman of both Spiegel and Otto Versand.
Analysts say Otto wants to see changes in the way Spiegel operates.
Spiegel's Eddie Bauer casual apparel division could be in for a makeover, predicted Eric Beder, an analyst with the investment bank Ladenburg Thalmann. Eddie Bauer sales declined 12 percent in October.
"Eddie Bauer has been the millstone of this company for the last year," Beder said. "It is still not clear if it is turned around."
Beder said he believes the Otto family wants Spiegel to integrate more closely with Otto Versand to cut costs.
The Spiegel Catalog still operates much the way it did decades ago, and Zaepfel must find new more efficient ways to serve consumers, Silverman said.
"That means more specialty books, more niche markets, more database minings to better target your mailings," he said. "On some of these things, Spiegel has yet to emerge as best of class."