Park topper exits Disney for Gap gig

Pressler succeeds the retiring Drexler

Paul Pressler will be trading his Mickey Mouse tie for flat-front chinos as the Disney theme-park topper was appointed CEO of the Gap on Thursday.

Pressler had been chairman of the Mouse House’s theme parks and resorts division. Previously, he headed the Burbank conglom’s Disney Stores unit.

“We conducted a comprehensive search for new leadership and were compelled by Paul’s track record and depth of experience of marketing one of the world’s most beloved brands,” Gap founder and chairman Donald Fisher said. “Paul knows how to lead creative customer-focused organizations and manage and grow complex businesses both in the United States and internationally.”

San Francisco-based Gap, once so dominant in casual apparel, has been struggling amid criticism over diminished product quality and unfocused retailing. In addition to Gap stores, the company owns the Old Navy and Bananna Republic clothing chains. Pressler succeeds the retiring Millard Drexler.

Challenges for successor

The Mouse is reviewing candidates to succeed the well-regarded Pressler, and an announcement is expected within a week. Any successor will be taking over at a particularly challenging time for Disney’s theme parks, which have seen an erosion in attendance by international visitors since Sept. 11.

“Under (Pressler’s) leadership, both the parks and resorts and Disney Stores were guided through a time of enormous creative and financial growth,” head Mouseketeer Michael Eisner said in a statement. “I am certain that Paul’s talents will benefit the Gap tremendously, just as they have added outstanding value to our company.”

Disney investors appeared unrattled by Pressler’s ankling, which is effective immediately. Mouse shares rose 47¢, or 3%, to $15.90 as stock participated in a broad market rally.

Strong bench

“I’m not particularly worried,” UBS Warburg analyst Christopher Dixon said. “He will be missed, there’s no question. But the theme park business has considerable (management) breadth and depth.”

Pressler was promoted to head the theme parks and resorts division from an earlier post running Disneyland. He joined Disney in 1987 as senior VP of product licensing and was upped to senior veep of consumer products in 1990.

Previously, Pressler held various branding and marketing posts at Remco Toys, Mego Toys and Kenner-Parker.

Pressler’s duties at Disney included oversight of conglom’s pro sports operations. In a separate announcement Thursday, Mouse said it’s retained Lehman Bros. to identify a buyer for the Anaheim Angels baseball team and Mighty Ducks hockey franchise.

Both teams have been up for sale for some time. Conglom has found too few biz synergies with its other operations and has had a problem turning a profit with the franchises.

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