Willard O. Bent, 71, retired chairman and chief executive officer of the Garfinckel, Brooks Brothers, and Miller & Rhoads Inc. clothing stores, died Oct. 9 at the Mary Hitchcock Hospital in Hanover, N.H., after a heart attack.
Mr. Bent joined the company as president in Washington in 1965 when it was known as Julius Garfinckel & Co. Inc., and for 15 years he presided over an era of growth and expansion when annual sales grew from $59 million to $472 million. He retired in 1980.
As chief executive officer of Garfinckel, which had owned Brooks Brothers since 1946, Mr. Bent led a bitter and ultimately successful battle in 1966 against a takeover bid by the Genesco Corp., a Nashville-based manufacturing and retail conglomerate.
To the Genesco argument that Garfinckel was losing business because its management lacked imagination, Mr. Bent countered that "all of us at Garfinckel take great pride in local management and don't want someone from outside attempting to improve an already satisfactory operation."
He became chairman of the company the following year and embarked on an expansion program which included the acquisition of the Miller & Rhoads department store group of Virginia. During the 1970s, the company expanded its branch stores, particularly Brooks Brothers, and acquired the Catherine's and Taylor specialty shops with outlets around the country.
A year after Mr. Bent retired in 1980, the company was acquired by Allied Stores Corp. of New York City.
Mr. Bent was born in Chicago and graduated from Purdue University. In 1933, he started in the retail business as a stockboy for Montgomery Ward in Chicago. Before moving to Washington he was a vice president at J.W. Robinson Co. in Los Angeles.
Mr. Bent was a director of Riggs National Bank. He was a member of the Metropolitan, Burning Tree and University clubs. Since his retirement he had lived in Easton, Md., Sharon, Vt. and Naples, Fla.
He is survived by his wife, Ruth Ward Bent, of Easton, Sharon and Naples; two sons, Christopher, of Old Greenwich, Conn., and Dennis, of Wellesley Hills, Mass.; and five grandchildren.