After just two years on the job, Helena Foulkes, chief executive officer of Hudson’s Bay Co., is bidding farewell to the company on March 13, the company said Tuesday.
Executive chairman Richard Baker will assume the role of ceo.
Foulkes, who was executive vice president of CVS Health and president of CVS Pharmacy before joining HBC in February 2018, was instrumental in downsizing HBC, including selling off HBC’s retail and real estate assets in Europe, the retail operations of Lord & Taylor and Gilt Groupe. She also brought in some new talent to help improve operations.
Saks Fifth Avenue, Saks Off 5th and Hudson’s Bay have been recently operating more autonomously. Certain functions — such as marketing, public relations, creative services, strategy, project management and loyalty — have been returned to the divisions, in effect dismantling a more centralized structure that was created under the former HBC ceo, Gerald Storch.
Additionally, HBC in the last few months added new presidents for its Saks Off 5th and Hudson’s Bay chains, Paige Thomas and Iain Nairn, respectively. Marc Metrick relinquished his role overseeing Saks Off 5th and continues as president of Saks Fifth Avenue. Thomas, Nairn and Metrick all report to Baker now, instead of Foulkes.
“The company and I are grateful for Helena’s leadership and significant accomplishments over the last two years,” Baker said. “Together, we have simplified our company, strengthened retail operations and reinvigorated our focus on the customer. Each of our businesses is well positioned to take advantage of opportunities in their unique markets and we are optimistic about this exciting next chapter for our company.”
“We made bold moves to streamline the business, modernize our marketing, seize digital opportunities, bolster our senior leadership team and empower each of our retail businesses to excel in the future,” Foulkes said. “I’m proud of the work we have done and how HBC embraced cultural change to prioritize delivering for our customers and creating exceptional experiences.”
“Each HBC division is operating more independently to guide their own strategies,” a source close to the company said. “HBC is shifting to a holding company. With Richard and Helena making some bold moves including selling off businesses, functions have been pushed back into the businesses.”
Also on Tuesday, HBC completed its deal to go private for 11 Canadian dollars per common share, following last Thursday’s vote by shareholders to approve the plan. Now HBC is a private company controlled by Baker and a group of other key continuing stakeholders — Rhône Capital LLC; WeWork Property Advisors; Hanover Investments (Luxembourg) S.A., and Abrams Capital Management LP. The cash for the go-private deal was largely raised through the sale of Hudson’s Bay retail and real estate holdings in Germany.
“This is a great outcome for HBC and all of its stakeholders,” Baker said. “The continuing shareholder group is resolved to doing what is right for our customers, associates, communities and partners. As current and future generations change the way they live, shop and work, we are committed to transforming HBC to capitalize on these shifts. It will take patient capital and a long-term view to fully unleash HBC’s potential at the intersection of real estate and retail.”
Among HBC’s near-term plans: continuing to elevate the image and luxury appeal of Saks Fifth Avenue, completing the final stages of the renovation of the Saks flagship, and somehow integrating Barneys New York into Saks Fifth Avenue. HBC has licensed the rights to the Barneys name in the aftermath of Barneys getting lifted out of bankruptcy by Authentic Brands Group and liquidated by B. Riley. On Feb. 23, Barneys closed its Madison Avenue flagship after closing its other stores around the country.
Baker, a dealmaker at heart, has long been interested in buying Neiman Marcus Group while also owning Saks Fifth Avenue. The two retailers together would dominate the luxury retailing sector in the U.S., and could be more profitable given the buying power, back office synergies, cost savings and talent attained through the combination.
Baker and the owners of NMG, Ares Management and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, have been in and out of talks for years. Another source said the go-private scenario has revived talks between the parties.
There is also speculation that if Baker doesn’t buy Neiman’s, Saks could be sold to the Neiman Marcus Group, though NMG is heavily in debt. With Saks now operating more autonomously, it would be easier to sell it off.
In the third quarter, HBC sales tallied 1.82 billion Canadian dollars from 1.86 billion Canadian dollars a year ago, with a 1.7 percent comparable sales decrease. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization declined to 40 million Canadian dollars from 84 million Canadian dollars a year earlier. There were some bright spots. Saks Off 5th sales grew 4.9 percent as digital sales increased 15 percent.