Millard ‘Mickey’ Drexler ’62 Will Deliver the Keynote Commencement Address at Bronx Science’s 95th Commencement Ceremony

The former CEO of Gap and J. Crew is now chairman of Alex Mill, a men’s and women’s apparel brand launched in 2013 by Mickey’s son, Alex Drexler.


Clement Pascal

Here is Millard ‘Mickey’ Drexler ’62 at Alex Mill’s headquarters in Soho, New York City.

Millard ‘Mickey’ Drexler ’62 will deliver the Keynote Address to the Bronx Science Class of 2023 during the 95th Commencement Ceremony at the United Palace Theater on June 23rd, 2023. Drexler is a household name in the fashion industry — a man who possesses the kind of discerning eye for style that has defined fashion trends for a generation and whose undeniable success has prompted global media outlets to refer to him as ‘The Merchant Prince.’ Despite Drexler’s busy schedule, he’s also active in the Bronx Science community, such as when he returned to the school in 2018 as an inductee to the Bronx Science Foundation’s Alumni Hall of Fame.

“People always say I’m intimidating,” said Drexler. “I don’t think I’m intimidating.” But for recent graduates, his laundry list of accomplishments certainly makes him an imposing role model. How can the average Bronx Science student relate to someone so successful? How do you live up to the legacy of a man who probably created some of the clothes you’re currently wearing? Drexler just might have the answers to these questions. He generously met with me and several other Class of 2023 seniors for an hour and forty minutes for an in depth interview. His comments below are from our conversation.

Born in the Bronx in 1944 to working class Jewish parents, Drexler’s childhood was defined by a rigorous work ethic that his family instilled in him. “I had a lot of part time jobs,” said Drexler. “My father wanted to be successful, but never was. But he always made me get up early and work.”

Even his mother, who was diagnosed with cancer the year he was born, worked throughout Drexler’s childhood. “My family didn’t have a lot of money, but that was never what it was about. It was about loving what you do,” said Drexler.

Drexler also credits his extended family in the Bronx for helping to raise him. “I lived near other family members. An aunt here, an uncle there. It was kind of like a kibbutz in Israel.”

Before he was a teenager, Drexler had developed a strong work ethic and what he calls “street smarts,” but he wasn’t a straight A student in school.  When he entered the rigorous academic community of Bronx Science,  he struggled initially and was intimidated by the academic talent around him. “Phillip, the kid who sat next to me in math and history class, always got As,” recalled Drexler. “But I had an 85 average. I never felt like I was smart. Bronx Science was the biggest insecurity maker in the world. Now, I realize that insecurity came from having no real educational ethic in my family. I was the first college graduate in my extended family.”

While Bronx Science was far from easy, Drexler reflected on the impact that the school had on him. “I didn’t enjoy my time at Bronx Science, but it made a big difference in my life, because it was the catalyst that got me to college,” said Drexler. “During my senior year, I applied to City College, because everyone from Science went to college. Plus, it was free in those days!” After two years at City College, Drexler transferred to SUNY Buffalo and graduated from there.

After college, Drexler began his rapid ascent in the retail industry, landing his first job at Bloomingdale’s.  He spent six years there, holding several buying positions before he left to take executive roles at a few other retailers.  Then, in 1980, he got the call to become the CEO of Ann Taylor, which at the time, was a struggling women’s speciality store. At 35 years old, it was Drexler’s first CEO position, and it was a reinvention where he had to make bold, sweeping changes to the company’s merchandise and personnel.  In just a few years, Drexler had transformed Ann Taylor into the go-to brand for stylish women across America.   But, Drexler got restless when the corporate owners began restricting his freedom to make decisions. “I hit a wall at Ann Taylor,” he said. “My bosses were based in Washington, D.C., and they just didn’t have an understanding of a fashion business that is built on style and creativity. It was very bureaucratic, and they didn’t value creative people.” This conflict between corporate bureaucracy and Drexler’s hands-on management style and tendency to hire scrappy, smart people has followed him throughout his career. “I don’t care where someone went to college, what their grades were, or what they scored on a test,” said Drexler. “I always value the person more than the résumé.”

Drexler’s life changed significantly when a call from a long-time consultant to San Francisco-based retailer, The Gap, came in, asking if he was interested in becoming the CEO of the struggling company which also owned Banana Republic.  With the support of his wife Peggy, Drexler moved his family to San Francisco, and for the next 18 years, Drexler reinvented Gap, taking it from $400 million in sales when he joined the company to a whopping $15 billion in sales when he left it. “My experience with Gap was amazing, and I learned a lot. Nothing is a straight line though. Trust me, there were a lot of challenges, but I was really proud of how the team and I built the company,” Drexler said.

Credited with defining casual dressing for America, Drexler’s vision for The Gap came to fruition within 18 months, and Gap became a fixture in American culture.  Drexler also invented Old Navy, a new retail concept that offered cool clothes at a value price point. Named after a bar he saw while driving on Rue Saint-Germain in Paris, Old Navy launched in 1994 and became one of the fastest growing launches in retail history, hitting $1 billion in sales in just four years.

Drexler’s time at The Gap was successful largely because of his incredible ability to see around corners.  “I painted a picture in my mind what the vision for Gap would be, and then the team and I built it,” he said. “For me, it’s all about doing what no one else has done, which is how I define creativity.”

Eager to get his family back to New York City, Drexler then took his fashion expertise and business know-how to J. Crew, where as CEO and an investor in the company, he transformed an ailing business into one of the most successful specialty retailers of its time.  Under his stewardship, J. Crew became a publicly traded company and became the standard for taste and style in America. In 2004, Drexler also acquired the name and rights to Madewell, a defunct workwear manufacturer founded in 1937, and turned it into a thriving business.

Drexler’s exited J. Crew in 2018 and founded Drexler Ventures LLC. He currently serves as chairman of Alex Mill, a fashion business founded by his son, Alex in 2013. In 2018, Somsack Sikhounmuong, former creative director at J. Crew and Madewell, joined Alex Mill as co-founder and creative director, solidfying the brand’s management team.  Drexler credits people as the key to all of his personal and professional success. “In business, it’s all about the team,” he said. “Without the right people on it, nothing gets done.”

On a personal note, Drexler says that without his wife Peggy, and the support of his family, he never would have gotten to where he is. “My wife Peggy has been my confidante, my friend, and my most reliable sounding board – she deserves so much credit for our success,” said Drexler.  And now, Drexler also gets to work with his son, Alex every day – an opportunity he cherishes.  “Alex gave me the job of my dreams at Alex Mill, and I’m very grateful for that,” said Drexler.

For all of his success, Drexler says that his two most cherished compliments are when people call him either a mentor or a mensch, a Yiddish term that refers to a person who is always honest, supportive, and willing to be a good friend.  In all of his professional roles, Drexler has mentored his colleagues.  He also prioritizes his personal and professional relationships – he picks up the phone; he checks in on people and makes himself available for a coffee with anyone who needs advice.  He is very humble and never forgets where he came from. Drexler still sees himself as a normal guy from the Bronx.  In fact, he often returns to the Bronx to have lunch with his grade school friends from his old neighborhood.

“I’ve been very fortunate, and in hindsight, I credit my drive to growing up in the Bronx,” said Drexler.  “I still show up and work hard every day, because I still feel like the underdog who has something to prove.”

For the entire Bronx Science community, Drexler is both a shining example of business acumen and work ethic. He’s a hard worker from humble means who’s been very successful, but who has never forgotten his roots. Mickey Drexler ’62 is a reminder that ambition, creativity, and pride are virtues that don’t belong to any one generation. They are, like Drexler’s own personal style, timeless.

UPDATE: Click HERE to watch the video of Bronx Science’s 95th Commencement Ceremony at The United Palace Theater, which was held on Friday, June 23rd, 2023, including the speech given by Bronx Science’s Keynote Address Commencement Speaker, Millard ‘Mickey’ Drexler ’62.

Drexler is a household name in the fashion industry — a man who possesses the kind of discerning eye for style that has defined fashion trends for a generation and whose undeniable success has prompted global media outlets to refer to him as ‘The Merchant Prince.’