CalBusiness


Winter 2009

Feature Story

Your Haas Network

Sabrina Simmons, BS 85
Chief Financial Officer, Gap Inc.
San Francisco, Calif.

 

You might think the CFO of the nation’s largest clothing retailer is losing sleep now that consumers are picking over the sales racks. Not Sabrina Simmons, BS 85.


“I’m not a maintenance-mode gal,” says Simmons, who oversees all global financial departments for Gap Inc. and its five brands — Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime, and the newly acquired Athleta. “A challenge makes you that much more passionate about winning.”


Part of Simmons’ confidence stems from prescient decisions she guided early in her tenure. She joined Gap as treasurer on Sept. 4, 2001 — a dark period for the country and the company. After shoring up the balance sheet, company leaders vowed to never again rely on capital markets, says Simmons, who became CFO in January 2008. That fiscal discipline has helped Gap return profits even as sales drop.


“Nobody is coming through this recession unscathed, but it feels great to sleep at night knowing our balance sheet is rock solid,” she says. Simmons graduated from a cozy Marin County private high school and was accepted with a prestigious Regents Scholarship to Berkeley. Her classes in “dusty Barrows Hall” challenged her in new ways. The 1980s junk bond scandals were valuable fodder for ethics instruction.


“I was inspired by another perspective than just going out and making a lot of money,” Simmons says. After earning an MBA at UCLA, Simmons landed in corporate accounting at Hewlett-Packard and then at USL Capital, a Ford subsidiary. It was the right direction, but she yearned for a less conservative culture.


Only after working as assistant treasurer at Levi Strauss & Co. did she find her true calling. “That was the first time in my life that I said, ’I love this,’” recalls Simmons. After six years, Simmons became CFO for British genetics company Sygen International. But she missed the apparel business, and when the opportunity opened at Gap, she jumped.


As she has moved up, Simmons says, communications skills have trumped the technical expertise she mastered early on. During these uncertain times, she advises young people to look for the silver lining: “These are the richest times for career development, when the deepest lessons can be learned.”

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Sabrina Simmons, BS 85