By  on January 5, 2005

NEW YORK — Continuing to rebuild its top ranks, J.C. Penney promoted Ken Hicks to president and chief merchandising officer, reporting to chairman and chief executive officer Myron Ullman and becoming second in command.

Hicks was president and chief operating officer. A search for a new chief operating officer is under way.

“The organization raised him up and he has the relevant merchandise savvy,” Ullman said Tuesday.

Ullman, who succeeded Allen Questrom a month ago, noted that Hicks will supervise merchandising, planning and allocation, product development, sourcing, marketing and J.C. Penney Direct, filling many of the responsibilities previously held by Vanessa Castagna, who left the company in November. Castagna was chairman and ceo of Penney’s stores, catalogue and Internet.

There has been speculation this week that Castagna may join Mervyn’s as ceo, though she has reportedly been interviewing at other companies including Kmart Corp., which is merging with Sears, Roebuck and Co. She could not be reached for comment.

There also has been speculation that Castagna’s departure could have triggered an exodus of executives who reported to her, but Ullman said Hicks’ appointment was something the organization wanted, that Castagna and Hicks “were closely aligned,” that both were members of the executive committee and that Hicks’ promotion would end the speculation about further departures.

“Ken is a proven merchandising professional who has done an outstanding job,” Ullman said in a statement. “He brings terrific J.C. Penney experience to this new assignment, along with excellent merchandising know-how from previous work in other organizations.”

Hicks said in a statement: “I am excited about the opportunity to lead such a strong and respected merchandise team. Our focus will continue to be on ways to enhance the quality, style and value J.C. Penney is known for, and the convenience of our store, catalogue and Internet shopping options.”

Hicks, a 20-year veteran in merchandising and product development, joined Penney’s as president and chief operating officer in 2002. Before Penney’s, he was president of Payless Shoe Source Inc., overseeing merchandising, marketing, product distribution and product development.

He also held stints as executive vice president and general merchandise manager for the Home Shopping Network, and senior vice president and general merchandise manager for May Department Stores in its May Merchandising and Foley’s divisions, where he was responsible for shoes, accessories, cosmetics, home, juniors’ and intimate apparel. Hicks was also a senior vice president of strategic planning at McKinsey and Co. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and the Harvard Business School.Hicks will continue to be responsible for stores and supply chain and store environment, design and construction at Penney’s until a new chief operating officer is found.

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