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Mickey Drexler, Retail Therapist, Fixing Companies Since 1983

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In 2002, Steve Jobs, who was on the board at the Gap, phoned then-CEO Mickey Drexler to tell him he'd been fired from his job of 19 years—during which time Drexler took the Gap from a 450-store $450 million business to a 2,000+ store $14 billion business.

"I felt terrible about being fired," Drexler tells WSJ, the Wall Street Journal magazine in a story that's slated to hit newsstands this Saturday. "I still feel angry every time I pass a store. That’s right, every time."

The man behind the Gap's legendary khaki campaign has since moved onto take the reins at J. Crew. When he arrived at the prep-tastic brand in 2003, J. Crew had 196 stores and was $609 million in debt. After two years, Drexler turned the company around—J. Crew made its first profit in 2005. By last year, in spite of the recession, the comany's revenues clocked in at $1.57 billion, above pre-recession figures, and profits increased 40%.

He's done well for himself, too, after cashing in a $350 million stake in the Gap after leaving (he also owns about $270 million in J. Crew stocks and options).

Not to mention all the praise-lavishing, adoring press:

Drexler’s zeal both for product and for J. Crew is almost messianic. His manner of delivery owes much to successful preachers, politicians and self-help gurus, who linger over their lines, often returning to key themes and engaging individuals on a one-on-one basis. It’s hard not to be mesmerized by Drexler—"We have all, to some extent or another, drunk the Kool-Aid," one staffer says— and it’s also tough to cut through the media hype. There are times when it becomes clear that at least part of the Drexler package (the corporate shareholder part) is smoothly cloaked in PR.

This weekend's Wall Street Journal magazine story is a worthwhile read—if not for a glimpse at Drexler's legendary magnanimous personality (he rides a bike around the office and answers customer emails himself, sometimes) then for the scenes where Drexler takes the WSJ around the Bronx neighborhood where he grew up.

"Our world was small,’" he says, as we pull up to a yellowing brick apartment building. An African- American woman wearing a Diana Ross (circa The Supremes) style wig and chic red lipstick is unlocking the door as we approach. "It’s OK," Drexler says, as we stand behind her, "I used to live here."

· Wall Street Journal [Official Site]