Michelle Gass is stepping up to the corner office at Kohl’s Corp. — ushering in a new era at the $18.7 billion retailer that is reinventing for the digital age.
The company named Gass chief executive officer-elect and said she will take the reins when Kevin Mansell retires as president, ceo and chairman in May, capping off 35 years with the company at its annual meeting.
Sona Chawla, Kohl’s chief operating officer, will take on the role of president and the board plans to appoint one of the company’s independent directors chairman.
“I am energized by the challenges we are all facing today in the retail sector,” Gass said. “We are resilient, innovative and agile, and will continue to make investments in our business to provide compelling customer experiences that pave the path for our future success.”
Gass joined Kohl’s in 2013 as chief customer officer overseeing marketing and ecommerce and in 2015 became chief merchandising and customer officer, adding the company’s merchandising, planning and product development divisions to her responsibilities.
Before joining Kohl’s, Gass spent almost 17 years at Starbucks, and has long been seen as a logical choice to succeed Mansell.
Like most of the rest of retail, Kohl’s has been struggling lately, as consumers change their shopping habits and rely more on the web. The retailer’s sales fell 2.7 percent last year as adjusted profits fell 13.8 percent to $673 million.
The company has shown its willingness to take a new approach — and an if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them attitude with Amazon. Last week, the retailer said a total of 82 of its stores in the Chicago and Los Angeles markets would offer free, convenient returns of Amazon products next month. The company also this month laid out a new smart home experience with Amazon that will be introduced in 10 doors.
Mansell said: “Michelle has been an instrumental leader in shaping the future at Kohl’s – one where we continue to put the customer first, focus on innovation, speed and agility and remain dedicated to the long-term financial health of the business. Michelle’s leadership of our merchandise and marketing organizations has proven her talent, passion, vision and readiness to lead our organization.
“She was a key leader driving the creation of our long-term strategic framework, the Greatness Agenda, led our focus on becoming the active and wellness destination for families, launched our new loyalty program, and is responsible for bringing in new categories, partners and brands including the company’s launch of Under Armour earlier this year and our recently announced collaborations with Amazon,” the outgoing ceo said. “The retail industry is going through a transformational amount of change and Michelle is extremely well qualified and positioned to lead Kohl’s through this evolution.”
Investors, who are often skittish in the face of any change, were somewhat wary and traded shares of the company down 0.6 percent to $45.95 in early trading on Wall Street.