Karstadt, the $4 billion German department store chain that was rescued from insolvency this year, has appointed veteran retail executive Andrew Jennings as chief executive officer.
Jennings told WWD on Tuesday that the company is “going to need a lot of care and attention. I’ve got lots of ideas and thoughts. I’m going to spend the first two months learning about the German culture and listening to the customers. Too many businesses end up in the retail graveyard because they don’t listen to their customers.”
Jennings, who was most recently group managing director of Woolworths South Africa, will succeed Thomas Fox on Jan. 1. Fox will remain with the company on an interim basis to assist in the transition.
“I’m thrilled with the opportunity of turning this household name brand in Germany into a modern, exciting retail emporium,” Jennings said. “The challenge is to update the business and have it benchmarked against the best businesses around the world.”
During his 35-year career, Jennings has held a variety of high-level positions. He was president of Saks Fifth Avenue; general manager of Harrods and managing director of House of Fraser, both in the U.K.; deputy chairman of Brown Thomas in Ireland, and president of Holt Renfrew in Canada. At Woolworths South Africa, he elevated the offerings, which included bringing in new fashion and cosmetics brands.
Billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen and Max Azria, chairman and ceo of BCBG Max Azria, acquired Karstadt in September. Azria, who owns 20 percent of the chain, has said the partners don’t plan to shutter any of the retailer’s 120 doors and would maintain the 25,000 workers. “We’ll put changes in very slowly,” Azria said in a recent interview. “We plan to give them direction to considerably improve the business.”
He said the chain is projected to earn $180 million in profit this year.
Jennings is faced with modernizing the group, both in terms of its assortment and the condition of many of its stores. The group is comprised of three premium department stores — KaDeWe in Berlin, Alsterhaus in Hamburg and Oberpollinger in Munich — 80 department stores throughout Germany, 26 sports stores and eight bargain centers.
Financially, things may be looking up. Coming out of insolvency, Karstadt is now debt-free, and this month reported a 7 percent gain in third-quarter sales.
Karstadt chairman Alain Caparros said Jennings’ “international expertise and his ability to drive innovations based on his economic foresight are crucial and will set the course for our renewed growth.”