Will Brendan Hoffman make a return engagement in the Midwest?
Since Hoffman’s departure as chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based Bon-Ton Stores Inc. last month, retailers and headhunters have been pondering his next move. At 45 years old, Hoffman is among the few young rising talents who has already held some high-profile jobs. His name regularly surfaces when major retail slots come vacant, along with some veterans like Roger Farah, formerly of Ralph Lauren Corp., and Mindy Grossman of HSN.
Currently, Hoffman is said to be on Kohl’s radar for a top position. Kohl’s, based in Menomonee Falls, Wisc., has its two top merchant slots open, following the departures of chief merchandising officer Donald Brennan last April, and Peggy Eskenasi, senior vice president of product development, last month. Earlier this year, Hoffman was on J.C. Penney Co. Inc.’s radar, as a possible successor to ceo Myron “Mike” Ullman 3rd, but that didn’t pan out.
“Kohl’s has a future. It just needs to be fixed,” said one investment banker. “Brendan could take the number-two job at Kohl’s under Kevin Mansell [the 61-year old chairman and ceo], and eventually move up. He’s already been a ceo a couple of times, but this would be a bigger job than the one he had at Bon-Ton or Lord & Taylor with an expectation of moving into the ceo role down the road.”
Said one retail ceo: “Brendan is all about running large public businesses — that’s what Brendan wants. He’s not so much about prestige merchandise.”
There’s plenty of logic for Kohl’s tapping Hoffman, principally his years of experience as ceo at Bon-Ton, Lord & Taylor and Neiman Marcus Direct and president of bergdorfgoodman.com. He also ran the Last Call clearance division of Neiman Marcus. He’s well-connected with brands and designers, which Kohl’s needs to improve its offering, though as the investment banker described Hoffman, “He’s more of a general business guy than a product guy.”
With Kohl’s, Hoffman could spend a lot of time in New York, where the retailer has its product-development operation, and stay closer to his family more often than he had while working for Bon-Ton.
It won’t be easy for Hoffman to move on. For one, he would have to get out of a non-compete agreement with Bon-Ton not to work for a competitor until a year after his departure. Plus, he may not want to settle for a second-in-command slot and instead sit back until the right ceo opportunity arises, giving him more time with his family. Hoffman left Bon-Ton saying he underestimated the toll the commuting back and forth to New York took on his wife and children. “I know that he and his family are not big fans of Milwaukee,” said one retailer.
Hoffman could not be reached for comment.