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Gordon Segal of Crate and Barrel

Forty-six years ago, Gordon Segal and his wife, Carole, borrowed $17,000 and opened a cavernous store in Chicago's Old Town, selling products such as forged flatware and fine china. Today, Crate and Barrel operates more than 165 retail locations. As Segal, 69, prepares to step down this month in favor of his longtime No. 2, Barbara Turf, he shares his thoughts on succession with staff writer Max Chafkin.
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Many CEOs struggle with succession. Was stepping down tough for you? Transitions are a part of good governance, and they shouldn't happen as emergencies. I also want to give Barbara enough time to make a difference in the company and let her have the honor of being CEO. She has worked her heart out here for 40 years, and the company should pay her back.

Does the economic slowdown change anything as far as succession? This past Christmas season was tough on us, as it was tough on everybody else in retail. We're on track to hit our $1.45 billion sales goal in 2008, up from $1.4 billion last year. But I've lived through five of these over the past 46 years, and they're actually good for business. You look at all the expenses you took for granted, and you negotiate better. You get rid of the fluff and get down to the lean red meat. For instance, we just figured out that we can save money by changing our packaging to a smaller box size. We hadn't looked at packaging in 10 years. So I think the recession will be a wonderful, fascinating time for Barbara to review and reorganize.

Why leave now? You can stay until they wheel you out on a gurney, but as you get older -- and more successful -- you begin to believe there's only one way to do things. You get fixated on what's made you successful. Innovative ideas come from younger people coming up in a company, and those people need to be given more authority. As Barbara steps up to do my job, the young leaders will step up to do her job, which is another reason doing this now is important.

Any chance that you'll return? I'm staying on as chairman, but I have no intention of stepping back in -- unless there's a crisis and they need me. I don't think there will be.




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