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Why Kenneth Cole Needs To Find Another CEO ASAP

When we last checked in with Kenneth Cole (KCP), the designer was still recovering from sticking a square-toed shoe in his mouth after making a crass comment on Twitter. Now we hear his CEO Jill Granoff is making an abrupt exit and Cole is installing himself in her place. Plenty of founders also take the chief's seat (think Amazon's Jeff Bezos), but in Cole's case, it's a good thing he's calling it an interim position.

It's not about you

Cole has proven that he's a pretty savvy marketer as well as designer (think edgy ads and the "Awearness" social justice campaigns). And, like them or not, the puns he pens are his own. So it's no surprise that the NY Post reports that Cole is a micromanager. One former exec even likened working at KCP to the Chinese totalitarian regime. At "The People's Republic of Ken" Granoff was in Cole's sartorial shadow during her three year tenure.

Now that he's grabbed the spotlight again (he was CEO in 2008 when Granoff was hired), his grandiose persona could be more of a hindrance to daily operations, especially since he's also been accused of second-guessing employees without a firm stand on the issues.

Stick to your knitting

Cole's creative, we get that. But Granoff was the one who presided over some pretty tough measures to bring the business back to profitability. KCP's revenues suffered during the recession and its stock lost about half its value over the past five years. However, even with Granoff's hard line on inventory and underperforming stores (most notably closing the Fifth Avenue flagship in NYC) KCP had a weak forecast for the second quarter. The news of Granoff's departure sent stocks tumbling another 13 percent.

Shareholders are clearly not confident that Cole can drive the team forward in Granoff's absence. And no one is really looking to the leadership potential of Paul Blum, KCP's former company president who will rejoin his former boss as vice chairman.

Blum's got KCP cred. He spent 15 years with the company in its heyday before leaving to become CEO of jewelry company David Yurman, so he should be savvy successor to Granoff.

Know when it's time to step aside

It's understandable that Cole wants to have leadership in place through the transition period, especially when bringing in someone else after such an abrupt shift. However, he'd be wise to remember he's only keeping the seat warm for the next CEO. The sooner he gets out, the better he can focus on having a focus.

KCP's brand efforts have been scattered over the past five years. In order to move forward as a profitable, growing company, Cole needs to determine who his customer is and how to make them happy. People are ready to spend money again. There's no better time for grabbing their attention with more than just clever ads.

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