BOSTON — TJX Cos., amid controversy over its decision to delay notifying customers and credit issuers about a major theft of data from its computer system, has picked a new chief executive officer.

The $16 billion Fram­ingham, Mass.-based off-pricer said it had formally installed Marmaxx division chief Carol Meyrowitz as ceo. TJX had announced in September that Meyrowitz, 52, would take the top job at the start of the new fiscal year. Company founder Ben Cammarata, who has been acting ceo since the departure of Edmond English in 2005 amid slowing growth, will remain as chairman.

Cammarata took out full-page ads this week in Boston-area newspapers to explain why the company, which learned in mid-December of the security breach involving shoppers’ personal information, waited until Jan. 17 to notify banks and customers. He also posted a five-minute video on the company’s Web site, shot amid the racks of a TJ Maxx store, saying that he regretted the impact on customers and that TJX delayed making the theft public on the advice of security experts and criminal investigators.

The public relations offensive came as a lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Boston seeking class action status to recover damages for all U.S. customers of TJX Cos., which has 2,010 stores under the TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Home Goods and A.J. Wright banners.

TJX Cos. has not said how many consumers were affected and did not return a call by press time. Some reports have suggested that the TJX loss could be the largest in corporate history.

The Massachusetts Bankers Association, representing 205 community banks, urged legislation that would mandate immediate disclosure of data breaches and would put financial liability back onto the affected company. Massachusetts is one of few states that does not mandate quick disclosure. It also has a high concentration of TJX Cos. stores.

In the video address, Cammarata said investigators believed that customers of Bob’s Stores, TJX’s 36-store full-price family apparel concept, and customers using debit cards issued by Canadian banks were not affected. TJX operates two off-price concepts, Winners and HomeSense, in Canada. Cammarata did not address customers at the company’s U.K. chain, TK Maxx.

This story first appeared in the January 31, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The company has said some debit and credit card data collected in 2003 and during a period from mid-May through December were stolen, along with a small number of customer names, addresses and driver’s license numbers.

Cammarata said he had written letters to individuals whose names and addresses were stolen, and said it concerned a “relatively small amount” of customers who had returned merchandise without receipts. He downplayed the risk of identity theft and told customers no computer system was completely safe.

“Over the years, I’ve been in hundreds of stores and I’ve met a lot of you. We would never take your business for granted and we never will,” Cammarata said. “We will never allow this incident to blur what we’re all about.”

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