A lack of outstanding specialty apparel retailing talent may force Gap Inc to look outside the sector for a successor to CEO Millard "Mickey" Drexler who last month announced he would step down after 19 years at the helm of the casual clothing giant.

Gap Inc, which also includes Old Navy and Banana Republic in its portfolio of stores, has taken the unusual step of hiring two executive search firms to find Drexler's replacement: Heidrick & Struggles International Inc and Herbert Mines Associates.

However, leading a turnaround at the world's largest clothing store company is a challenge few have the qualifications to achieve.

Analysts and headhunters rate Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon Products Inc, Vanessa Castagna, chief operating officer of JC Penney Co Inc and Rose Marie Bravo, CEO of British designer Burberry, for driving turnarounds. But it is believed none are in a position to seriously consider the role.

Other CEOs whose names are bandied about by industry sources include Liz Claiborne Inc's Paul Charron and Abercrombie & Fitch Co's Mike Jeffries. There is also widespread speculation that Jeanne Jackson, a former president of Banana Republic and former CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc's Internet arm, is a candidate.

Last month Gap Inc chairman Don Fisher said the company would prefer to hire somebody with retail experience.

But perhaps more important is someone who can address operational and structural problems in the company - which posted a net loss of $7.8 million for 2001.