By  on June 25, 2009

McKay Belk, president and chief merchandising officer of the Belk Inc. department store chain, has found another calling — he’s going on sabbatical for ministry-related work.

“I’ve been here 30 years this month, and I came close to going to seminary school before my father convinced me to enter the retail world,” the 52-year-old Belk told WWD on Thursday. “The retail business has a lot of demands. It doesn’t give you a ton of time for the things you would like to do.”

Belk said that over the years he has done Christian missionary and ministry-related work in the U.S., Africa, Mexico and China, including building homes in impoverished parts of Mexico and elsewhere, assisting a homeless ministry in Charlotte, N.C., where Belk’s is based, and working with an organization in the North Carolina mountains that takes in children from “very difficult situations and loves them and hugs them and breathes life back into them….In that regard, this was not a hard decision to make. The hard part is saying goodbye to the great team we’ve got in place.”

Belk’s sabbatical from the department store chain, which was founded by his grandfather William Henry Belk in 1888, begins Aug. 3.

Belk said after his 12-month sabbatical he will become vice chairman, and will continue to provide the company advice on merchandising strategy and vendor relations. He will also continue as a member of the Belk board.

But Belk also said he may not decide to come back to Charlotte. “That remains to be seen,” he said. “That door is open. It will be dependent on what occurs over the next 12 months. I will have the [vice chairman] title regardless of whether I come back.

“I think the time is right to shift my priorities and devote more time to serving others,” Belk said in his official statement.

Tim Belk, chairman and chief executive officer of Belk said, “Johnny and I will miss McKay as a brother in the business and a key member of the management team. His outstanding merchandising and marketing leadership helped Belk grow into one of the country’s largest and most successful privately owned department store companies. At the same time, we are excited for him as he considers a new chapter in his life.”

He cited several strategic initiatives led by McKay, including the consolidation of merchandising and marketing functions, the integration of merchandise planning and allocation processes, the building of women’s apparel and private brands, cultivating key vendor relationships, and the development of a very strong merchandising and marketing team.

Executives reporting to McKay Belk — Kathy Bufano, president of merchandising and marketing and Amy Wooden, executive vice president of merchandise planning and allocation and e-commerce — will report to Tim Belk. Les Satinover, vice president of visual merchandise presentation, will report to Johnny Belk, president and chief operating officer.

McKay is a director of Coca-Cola Consolidated Bottling Co., and serves as chairman of its audit committee and as a member of its compensation committee. He serves on several other boards as well.

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