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Upscale fashion retailer Holt Renfrew & Co. has replaced its president Caryn Lerner with company insider Mark Derbyshire, making the leadership change just as it is gearing up for a more prosperous economic environment.

The company gave no specific reason for the departure of Ms. Lerner, who has been its top executive since 2004. Spokesman John Crean said only that, with the economy turning around, "it is the right time to have new leadership within Holts."

Ms. Lerner will continue to work with the organization, but as an outside consultant, the company said yesterday.

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Mr. Derbyshire, 40, has mainly held human resources positions within the Wittington Fashion Retail Group, the Weston-family holding company that also owns Selfridges in Britain and Brown Thomas in Ireland. His most recent title was chief talent officer.

Holts chairman Galen Weston said in a statement that Mr. Derbyshire will "continue to evolve and grow Holt Renfrew as an international brand and a continued fashion authority in Canada."

Ms. Lerner, 52, was a seasoned U.S. fashion executive before she became boss at Holts, and held the helm during the rough ride through the recession. Early in the downturn, she eliminated the retailer's children's section, shifted to less-flashy fashions, and then cut more than 130 employees as sales declined.

Still, Holts said it experienced a minor fall in business compared with other retailers.

Retail consultants said yesterday that Mr. Derbyshire's key challenge is to maintain Holt Renfrew's luxury appeal, while bringing in new customers. The key is "finding the right place to be without killing your brand," said Maureen Atkinson, senior partner at retail consulting firm J.C. Williams Group.

Kaileen Millard-Ruff of GfK Research Dynamics said the "Catch-22" of the luxury retail trade is that the customers, who make up a small proportion of the overall population, can afford to travel and shop at exclusive stores elsewhere.

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About the Author
Reporter, Report on Business

Richard Blackwell has reported on Canadian business for more than three decades. At the Financial Post and the Globe and Mail he has covered technology, transportation, investing, banking, securities and media, among many other subjects. Currently, his focus is on green technology and the economy. More

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