Mrs. Fields is throwing in her apron. On Feb. 17, Debbie Fields, who started her cookie-making empire in Palo Alto, Calif., back in 1977, stepped down as president and chief executive officer. Fields, who retains her position as chairwoman, turned over nearly 80% of the company to four lenders led by Prudential Insurance Co.

The lenders, in return, will forgive $46 million in debt taken on to fuel the company's expansion plans. Shareholders aren't totally wiped out: They'll receive one share of the restructured company for every eight they now hold. The agreement still must be approved at a Mar. 3 shareholder meeting.

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