By  on April 14, 2006

CHICAGO — J.C. Penney's chief information officer and executive vice president, Stephen Raish, has left the company after a more-than-30-year career.

Raish "elected to take early retirement," a company spokesman said.

The decision surprised industry experts who said Raish, 55, was a proven leader with a good track record. Before he was named chief information officer in 2001, Raish was president of Accelerating Change Together, Penney's initiative to centralize merchandising processes. He also served in several senior management posts on the retail side of the business.

"Integrator and innovator — these two words are top of mind in thinking about the incumbent cio for JCP," said Sandra Schwan, vice president and technology practice lead at Kensington International, an Oak Brook, Ill., executive search firm. "JCP will see a loss of institutional knowledge when Stephen leaves."

Cathy Hotka, senior vice president of technology and business development for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, called Penney's "an unsung technology giant" and credited Raish with recent advances such as its successful electronic commerce initiative. "The story here is about stability," she said.

Hotka speculated Penney's likely would pluck someone internally as the new chief information officer. "They know how to do this," she said.

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