These words cast an indelible impression on me as Don Fisher, Co-founder of Gap, Inc. sat on a solitary stool alone on a stage in front of over 3000 store managers and senior management from around the world in Las Vegas, Nevada in the late nineties. This was his mantra and he wanted to share it with everyone in the company. His deep baritone cast a spell on the audience as the white on black words appeared on three screens surrounding him on that stage.
He spoke about the humble beginnings of the Gap concept in San Francisco in 1969 and how he and Doris decided to go into the retail business after being in real estate for his entire career. Now, at 41, he decided to make his first big CHANGE.
His next big CHANGE came as he reached an inflection point in the Gap brand life cycle. He had built a terrific business based on being in stock in Levi’s jeans and he knew he needed to do something to drive his company further 16 years later. Being a real estate visionary and not necessarily a merchant, he decided what he needed was to hire himself a crackerjack merchant, and that he did. Mickey Drexler (now of J. Crew), from Ann Taylor, was convinced to move from New York to San Francisco and become Don’s “partner” as they liked to call themselves. That was a brilliant move as Mickey effectively turned the company into what it is today, a multi-billion dollar, multi-national concern with four apparel brands (Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta), a burgeoning online business named Piperlime, and brand identities others crave to own.
There were many CHANGES in the business as Mickey helped steer the ship. Purchasing Banana Republic and re-positioning the brand. Conceiving of Old Navy and turning it into one of the largest specialty retail brands in the world. Pushing an online business which is the envy of the industry in performance and functionality. Occupying the best real estate in the country. Expanding internationally one step at a time in Europe and Asia and now licensing in several other countries.
Don was never afraid of CHANGE and as an entrepreneur, one can’t afford to be. He implored everyone in the company to embrace CHANGE and become a CHANGE agent, seeking it out before it is foisted upon us. He was our mentor, our father figure and our friend at the same time. I will never forget him calling me (when I was running Canada for Gap) several times to tell me how much he and Doris appreciated my efforts on behalf of the company and that he was so proud of me. I will never forget him as long as I live and I will try to do him proud from this day forward.
Don Fisher passed away on Sunday, September 27th at his home in San Francisco, with his family by his side. His incredible legacy endures not only in the company he conceived and continually transformed, but in the San Francisco community, in the world of modern art and in his charitable work, specifically trying to revolutionize the educational system in the U.S. one step at a time. His story is one of humility, of fearlessness, of strength of convictions and of charity.
The true measure of his impact is that his message and his efforts have been and will continue to be felt by literally millions of people. What a life’s work. Rest in peace Don, you have earned it.