Joel Waller Adds CEO Duties at Christopher & Banks

The company has formed a committee of its board to search for a permanent chief executive officer following Larry Barenbaum’s resignation.

Joel Waller, who joined Christopher & Banks Corp. as president two months ago, has added the title of chief executive officer of the women’s chain following Larry Barenbaum’s resignation as ceo and director.

The company has formed a committee of its board to search for a permanent ceo.

Jules Rouse, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of the struggling specialty chain, has left the firm. Ann McDermott and Tricia Perket have been named divisional general merchandise managers for the Christopher & Banks and CJ Banks divisions, respectively, continuing to report to Waller. They reported to Rouse prior to Waller’s arrival.

Waller, 71, is the former ceo of Wilsons The Leather Experts, acquired by G-III Apparel Group Ltd. in July 2008, and headed The Wet Seal Inc. for three years beginning in 2005.

“My immediate priority is to bring stability to the organization while finalizing our merchandise and marketing strategies,” he said Friday. “Our focus is on the execution of these strategies to deliver improved operating results.”

Barenbaum, who’d previously been chairman of the Minneapolis-based firm, moved up to ceo on an interim basis in October 2010 upon the departure of Lorna Nagler. He’s been a director of the company since 1992.

In November, the company said it would close about 100 of its weaker stores and reported it had terminated 7 percent of its headquarters staff and 13 percent of its store operations management staff, actions designed to trim its expenses by about $2.2 million a year.

Waller, a retail restructuring expert, told WWD that during part of the time since he left Wet Seal, he’d returned to Wilsons to assist in its integration into G-III. He doesn’t expect to fill Barenbaum’s seat on C&B’s board.

“Larry [Barenbaum] brought me in here to do some things and that’s what I’ll be doing,” he said. “Nearly all of the stores we said we’d be closing have been shut and we’ve got plenty more to work on.”

Regardless of the length of his tenure, Waller faces a considerable task in his new post. Through the first nine months of its current fiscal year, ended Nov. 26, the company lost $39.3 million, or $1.11 a diluted share, including a $12.2 million pretax charge for impairment and restructuring in connection with the closure of its underperforming stores. Same-store sales through the first nine months were down 3 percent while net sales declined 1.3 percent to $344 million. Gross margin descended to 28.4 percent of sales from 38 percent in the first nine months of fiscal 2011.

The firm operates 686 stores in 45 states plus the christopherandbanks.com and cjbanks.com e-commerce sites.