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Teen apparel retailer ousts longtime CEO; taps Target exec as head merchant


Rue 21 announced a series of leadership changes as it looks to reinvigorate its brand.

In a surprise announcement on Saturday, the retailer said it had appointed CFO Keith McDonough as interim CEO, succeeding Bob Fisch, who has served as president and chief executive of Rue 21 since 2001.

No reason was given for Fisch’s ouster. But the company, which is private and operates 1,213 stores nationwide, has been criticized for being slow to respond to the online juggernaut and also not adapting quick enough to changing fashion trends among its core teen demographic. Rue 21 was named in a recent Fitch Ratings report as being one of seven retail chains at risk of defaulting within a year.

In other changes, Rue 21 ousted general merchandise manager Kim Reynolds, and appointed Nina Barjesteh as chief merchandising officer. Barjesteh, a 20 year retail and fashion industry veteran, joins Rue 21 from Target, where she served as the VP, general merchandise manager of the women's apparel division.

The company also announced a new position, chief customer officer, to be filled by Elizabeth Hodges, who spent the last nine years at Chico’s FAS, most recently as senior VP of customer experience. Hodges previously held leadership positions with J.C. Penney, American Eagle and Lane Bryant.

"We thank Bob Fisch and Kim Reynolds for their 15 years of collaboration and passion in building rue21 into a leading teen specialty apparel retailer,” said interim CEO McDonough. “We are very excited to have Nina Barjesteh and Liz Hodges join the rue21 leadership team. They both will play key roles as we further position our business for long-term growth."

Rue21 said it plans to open approximately 40 new stores and upgrade 100 existing stores in fiscal 2016, and launch several customer-focused initiatives, including a such as ship-to-store program. It also said e-commerce sales grew 90% in the first six months of the current fiscal year.

"We continue to execute on the strategic initiatives we set out for 2016 and the longer-term, including strengthening our brand, our merchandise assortments and our omnichannel capabilities, in addition to increasing our square footage,” McDonough said.
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