Kohl’s sets CEO succession plan
Kohl’s Inc. announced that Michelle Gass, who joined the mid-market department store operator in 2013 from Starbucks, will become its new CEO in May 2018 when Kevin Mansell retires.
Mr. Mansell, a 35-year veteran, has been leading Kohl’s for the last decade. With its easy-to-navigate race-track design, value emphasis and commitment to national brands, Kohl’s has strongly outperformed its closest competitors, JC Penney and Sears, for decades. But the chain has been unable to avoid many challenges recently affecting all department stores and has been faulted for its slow embrace of online selling and recent overemphasis of proprietary brands.
Earnings this year have rebounded on cost-reduction efforts and improved traffic due in part to merchandise changes attributed to Ms. Gass. These include positioning Kohl’s as an “active and wellness destination” and bringing in brands such as Apple, Under Armour and Fitbit.
Ms. Gass joined Kohl’s as chief customer officer, with responsibilities over marketing and e-commerce. In 2015, she added the title of chief merchandising officer, assuming leadership of the merchandising, planning and product development divisions. Previously, she spent 17 years at Starbucks, most recently as president.
Some observers felt the digital prowess Ms. Gass picked up at Starbucks would be beneficial in guiding Kohl’s future. She was credited with leading Kohl’s new collaborations with Amazon, which includes handling returns and selling Amazon devices at select stores.
In an interview with Fortune on Tuesday, Mr. Mansell inferred that Kohl’s would need more “outside the box” thinking, such as the Amazon partnership, to reverse the traffic sluggishness seen across physical retail.
Another digital-savvy exec, Sona Chawla, Kohl’s COO, will be promoted to president next May. She will continue to oversee omnichannel operations. Prior to joining Kohl’s in 2015, Ms. Chawla spent seven years at Walgreens with roles including head of e-commerce and president of digital and chief marketing officer. Prior to Walgreens, she led Dell’s online business.
In March, Macy’s took a more traditional step in promoting its former chief merchandising officer and Macy’s veteran, Jeff Gennette, to CEO.
- Kohl’s Announces CEO Succession Plan: Kevin Mansell to Retire in May 2018, Michelle Gass Appointed CEO-elect – Kohl’s
- Kohl’s Is Getting A New CEO – Fortune
- Kohl’s names new chief as CEO Kevin Mansell announces retirement in May – USA Today
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does Kohl’s executive succession plan give you more or less confidence in the chain’s future? What type of leadership skills will be most important for Kohl’s next phase? Will digital expertise or merchandising acumen be more important for the future of department stores?