FIELDS SEEN TAKING OVER AS CEO OF HUDSON’S BAY
Byline: Valerie Seckler and David Moin
NEW YORK — Bill Fields, who resigned as chairman of Blockbuster Video on Tuesday, is expected to become chief executive officer of Hudson’s Bay Co. in Toronto, succeeding George Kosich, according to sources.
Before joining Blockbuster 13 months ago, Fields was president and ceo of Wal-Mart’s discount store division. That experience is crucial to Hudson’s, whose 299-unit Zellers discount division is in an intense battle for market share against Wal-Mart Canada. Each chain is said to own about 44 percent of that nation’s discount sector.
The appointment would give Fields a chance to have the top slot at an independent company. Blockbuster is a division of Viacom, and at Wal-Mart, he led the discount division, but not Sam’s Clubs or the supercenters.
Fields could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but in a statement that accompanied the Blockbuster announcement Tuesday, he said he resigned from Blockbuster to return to general merchandise retailing.
The 62-year-old Kosich said last month he would step down this summer as Hudson’s Bay’s president and ceo, after 37 years with the retailer and 10 at its helm. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
In addition to Zellers, Hudson’s Bay operates the Hudson’s Bay chain, Canada’s top department store retailer.
Fields’s departure from Blockbuster raises speculation that other key executives might be leaving. Fields built a Blockbuster’s team stacked with former Wal-Mart executives he worked with, including a number of executives in store operations, distribution and systems.
At the time of Kosich’s announcement, Hudson’s Bay watchers pegged Millard Barron, another Wal-Mart veteran, as his most likely successor. Barron was hired last fall as executive vice president of Hudson’s Bay and president of Zellers. He had been Wal-Mart’s chief operating officer in charge of foreign operations.
Wal-Mart entered the Canadian market in 1994 and became an overnight threat to Zellers.
Hudson’s Bay’s sales in 1996 totaled $4 billion ($6 billion Canadian). It has 38 percent of the department store market in Canada.
Kosich steered his company through a prolonged recession in the early Nineties and aggressively expanded by acquiring Woodward, Towers and parts of Robinson’s — three troubled department store chains. He tried to add Kmart Corp.’s Canadian unit in 1995 but was unsuccessful.
In late February, as reported, Hudson’s Bay made it known that it again wanted a piece of Kmart Canada. In published reports in Toronto, Barron said a Kmart acquisition fits the aggressive growth strategy in place at Zellers.
Some analysts expect Kmart Canada to be divided among a few purchasers. George Hartman, market analyst with Eagle & Partners, a Toronto investment firm, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Hudson’s Bay take on 40 to 50 Kmart stores and close about 20 Zellers doors that are close to existing Kmart sites.
The next Hudson’s Bay ceo could move on another front. Canada’s T. Eaton Co. filed for bankruptcy protection Feb. 27 and is looking to unload at least 32 stores.