BERLIN — Andrew Jennings is leaving his post as chief executive officer of troubled Karstadt department store group when his contract expires at the end of the year, the Essen, Germany-based company confirmed Sunday.
Jennings, who joined Karstadt in January 2011, will remain involved in Karstadt after his contract officially ends, the group said, and is committed to finding his successor. Jennings could not be reached for comment.
The veteran retailer, who has held top posts at Woolworths South Africa, Saks Fifth Avenue, Holt Renfrew in Canada, Brown Thomas in Ireland, and House of Fraser and Harrods in London, reportedly threw in the towel over a disagreement with Karstadt owner Nicolas Berggruen over the latter’s non-funding of the 120 store group. Berggruen bought the bankrupt department store chain for 1 euro, and while details of Berggruen’s offer were never made public, the investor said he would invest 70 million euros, or about $89 million, of his own capital as soon as the sales contract was officially accepted.
The group’s official release, however, denied any dispute. Karstadt said Berggruen and Jennings are committed to the group’s modernization and restructuring plan “Karstadt 2015.”
Turning the group around has been anything but easy, and after slimming the workforce by 2,000 and more recently freezing wages, Karstadt has been hit by flash strikes over the last several days.
The group has kept strictly mum about sales developments, but Berggruen told the German press last week, “I didn’t know how ill Karstadt really was after 20 years of mismanagement.” Further press reports said sales slid 5 percent in May, after 10 percent declines in previous months.
Speculation is also on the rise regarding a breakup of the group, particularly the sale of its best-performing doors such as its premium flagship, KaDeWe in Berlin, and the other two members of the Karstadt Premium Group.
Under Jennings, Karstadt significantly modernized its fashion assortment, introducing about 50 new brands from the U.S., England and Scandinavia to generally positive response. However, industry observers noted, with little funds to sufficiently publicize these unfamiliar labels, the changes didn’t bring the hoped for results.