MONTREAL – Bonnie Brooks, a former executive of Holt Renfrew with international retail experience, has been named CEO of Hudson’s Bay Co.’s flagship Bay division. Her appointment is effective in early September.
She is the third high-profile candidate named to fill positions at HBC since the chain was acquired last month by NRDC Equity Group, owner of Lord & Taylor among other holdings.
Brooks joins HBC from Lane Crawford Joyce Group, a fashion powerhouse in Hong Kong where she was president. In addition to her retail background, Brooks is a former editor of Canadian fashion magazine Flare. NRDC earlier appointed Jeffrey Sherman as HBC’s new CEO, a seasoned American merchant who has headed major retailers including Ralph Lauren and Bloomingdale’s and Mark Foote, formerly of Loblaw supermarkets and Canadian Tire who now heads HBC’s Zellers discount division.
The three appointments are in stark contrast to former HBC owner Jerry Zucker who acquired the company in 2006 and appointed himself as HBC’s CEO despite having little merchandising experience. He later replaced himself with a close business associate with a background in finance. Zucker died of cancer in April.
Baker has said he plans to invest $500 million to revive both the Bay and Zellers and differentiate the two divisions by introducing higher end labels to Bay stores to attract younger shoppers.
But adding a few more labels won’t do the trick, according to retail analyst John Williams of the Toronto-based J.C. Williams Group, because the Bay is up against Holt Renfrew and specialty stores which would be the first choice for shoppers looking for high end brands.
“She has a formidable task of turning a company around that continues to lose market share. And she’s going from a high-end retailing environment at Lane Crawford and Holt Renfrew to a mass merchandiser, a format that I feel is outdated. I really have no idea how she can turn things around.”
Nancy Dennis of Toronto consulting firm Epiphany Branding, who has worked at both the Bay and Zellers, said Brooks’ appointment is a very good fit.
“The Bay is very strongly apparel driven and it’s nice that a merchant will be running it instead of a bean counter. She has an international perspective which indicates they want to upgrade their offerings. I also think splitting the (Bay and Zellers) banners is a positive move.”
Meanwhile, at Lane Crawford, Jennifer Woo will now helm the Hong Kong-based retail conglomerate the Lane Crawford Joyce Group.
The presidents of fashion-forward specialty chain Joyce, accessories retailer Pedder Group and The Lane Crawford Joyce Group Distribution Company will report to Woo, who takes on the additional role of deputy chairman.
One of Asia’s most dynamic luxury players, the Lane Crawford group has tripled its business in the last five years and expanded its scope beyond Hong Kong and Macau into China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Under Brooks’ tenure, Lane Crawford was repositioned from an old style department store into a modern fashion retailer, and a distribution company was formed to bring a range of brands to Asia, including Tom Ford, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney, Marni, Jil Sander, Etro, Jimmy Choo, Hugo Boss, Club Monaco, Juicy Couture, Anya Hindmarch and Jo Malone.
“Bonnie has spearheaded the strategy to optimize our multi-brand retailing and mono-brand distribution in the booming Asian retail market and has led us through a dynamic period of growth,” Woo stated. “With the foundations of the group firmly in place, I am extremely confident in, and excited about, our future.”
Lane Crawford Joyce Group has been rocked with other personnel changes recently. Last November, Joyce founder Joyce Ma, along with her husband Walter and daughter Adrienne, exited the fashion chain bearing her name. Recently, Andrew Andrew Keith, vice-president of merchandising at Lane Crawford, was named president of Joyce Boutique Holdings Ltd., succeeding Adrienne Ma.