Kohl’s Corp. has started to think about succession planning.
The Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based retailer has named Michelle Gass, its current chief customer officer, to the newly created position of chief merchandising and customer officer, and is looking for a chief operating officer — both of whom would be in position to succeed Kohl’s chairman and chief executive officer Kevin Mansell when he retires.
But Mansell, 62, isn’t going anywhere just yet, and the stock market barely took notice of the new appointments. Shares of Kohl’s Thursday were off 0.1 percent to $62.41 with volume on the New York Stock Exchange at 1.4 million shares, less than half its 90-day average.
In the company’s definitive proxy filed this year, Kohl’s gave no timing on Mansell’s retirement. It did say that the terms of its agreement with the ceo “ends” once it is determined that his “eventual successor is prepared to assume the ceo role and also gives the company the option to retain his services for a period following Mr. Mansell’s eventual retirement.”
Mansell seems to be in a stronger position having overseen a turnaround at the retailer in the last year or so following a period when Kohl’s faltered badly as rivals such as Macy’s Inc. gobbled up market share. The retailer posted a 1.6 percent rise in net income for the first quarter ended May 2 to $127 million, or 63 cents a diluted share, from $125 million, or 60 cents, a year ago. Sales rose 1.3 percent to $4.12 billion from $4.07 billion as comparable-store sales rose 1.4 percent.
The ceo has devised a three-year plan to ignite growth called the “greatness agenda,” which includes “best-in-class” customer service and a goal of $21 billion in annual sales. The agenda comprises five pillars that include “incredible savings,” “easy experience,” “personalized connection,” “winning teams” and “amazing product.”
On the product side, the retailer is shifting its focus from private-label fashion lines to national brands. Among the fashion brands it has introduced are Izod, Puma, Fitbit, Juicy Couture, Fruit of the Loom, Gaiam yoga apparel and Bliss. Kohl’s has also added additional activewear offerings with brands such as Nike, Columbia and Champion.
Later this year, Kohl’s plans to roll out a new “sports environment” that will include merchandise tied to college and professional sports teams from the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the NCAA. When the retailer posted first-quarter results last month, it also said it was boosting it activewear and wellness offerings.
Gass has just the kind of consumer-oriented and international background Kohl’s needs to fulfill its ambitions. She joined the retailer in July 2013 after a 16-year-plus career at Starbucks Corp., holding a variety of senior leadership roles including global strategy, marketing and category management. She also held the role of president, Starbucks Europe, Middle East and Africa, overseeing and growing company and licensed operations across 36 markets and 1,900 stores.
Gass, who retains oversight for customer engagement and marketing and public relations, will take on the responsibilities for merchandising, planning and allocation. Mansell said Gass in her role will lead the merchandising and product development executives in “providing the vision and strategic direction we need to accomplish the ambitious goals we set out in our three-year plan and overarching ‘greatness agenda.’”
Given the change in responsibilities for Gass, Mansell will assume oversight of the retailer’s digital and e-commerce strategies, key components in its growth program as it — and most major department stores — continue to push to develop omnichannel capabilities.
The new role of chief operating officer will further bolster Kohl’s executive suite. That person will hold the top operations job. Both Gass and the new chief operating officer will report to Mansell, giving him four direct reports. The other two are also newly created “principal officer” positions. Wesley McDonald was promoted to the chief principal position of chief financial officer. He was previously senior executive vice president, chief financial officer. In addition, Richard Schepp was promoted to chief administrative officer. He was senior executive vice president, human resources, general counsel and secretary.