WILLIAM FIELDS TO BE HEAD OF HUDSON BAY
Byline: Valerie Seckler
NEW YORK — Lured by the increasingly competitive Canadian market and the chance to run his own show, William R. Fields, the former Blockbuster Video chairman and Wal-Mart veteran, will become president and chief executive officer of Hudson’s Bay Co. on June 1.
The announcement by Hudson’s Bay confirms a report on page 3, April 24. Fields will succeed George J. Kosich, 62, who plans to retire.
“Canada, like everywhere else in the world, is becoming a hotly competitive market, one where Hudson’s Bay has great assets to do battle, and that was a lure,” Fields said Monday in an interview from HBC’s Toronto headquarters. “The company has a great history and has great employees,” Field’s said.
However, a New York-based headhunter said, “The word for quite a while was that Fields and [Viacom chairman] Sumner Redstone were not in sync, and that the corporate culture wasn’t a great fit.”
Asked about the report, Fields declined to comment, noting that he agreed with Blockbuster-parent Viacom to limit comments about his former employer.
“Sumner is a hard-charging guy with a huge ego who likes to be involved in all key decisions; he closely controls the company,” the source continued. “Sam Walton didn’t get involved in all the key moves when Fields was at Wal-Mart, and he had a different personality than Sumner.”
Fields, 47, resigned as chairman of Blockbuster last Thursday after 13 months with the company. Prior to that, he was ceo of Wal-Mart’s discount stores.
“The question is, what did Fields find when he got to Blockbuster?” said Robert E. Kerson, chairman, Levy, Kerson & Associates, executive search consultants. “I suspect he found other than what he expected, three months or so into the job.”
Asked whether Hudson’s Bay would be hitting the acquisition trail to accelerate growth, Fields said, “We’re looking into everything; I’ve been in meetings all morning, but it’s too early to comment on specific plans.
“I’m not sure yet if we’re going to be better off buying real estate or doing our own building,” he added, in response to a question about HBC’s possible interest in acquiring the Eaton’s department store sites put on the market last month. As noted, Toronto-based T. Eaton Co. filed for bankruptcy protection Feb. 27 and is looking to unload at least 32 stores by July.
Established in 1670, Hudson’s Bay is Canada’s oldest corporation. It accounts for 7.5 percent of the country’s retail sales, excluding automobiles and food, according to company officials. Hudson’s operates The Bay, a 101-unit chain and Canada’s largest department store. The Bay is estimated to control 39 percent of Canada’s department store sector, and sales last year totaled $4 billion ($6 billion Canadian.)
Hudson’s also operates Zellers, a 296-store discounter on an aggressive growth path and waging a market share war against Wal-Mart Canada. Each chain is said to control about 44 percent of Canada’s discount market.
Fields declined comment about the terms of his deal.
“I suspect there is a serious opportunity for an equity position for Fields,” Kerson offered.
Fields won’t exactly be starting from scratch in the Canadian market, where he has strong connections.
The father of his wife, Patrice, was born in Toronto, and at Wal-Mart, he worked with Loblaws, the Canadian supermarket company, to develop private label goods. “The Toronto connection was certainly a positive part of the package,” Fields said.
Fields is a 25-year veteran of Wal-Mart, where he was a store manager, merchandising manager, senior vice president of distribution and executive vice president, merchandising and sales and eventually head of the core discount chain.
“I’ve been in the general merchandise business so long, I just couldn’t get it out of my blood,” Fields said.
Kosich led Hudson’s Bay through a lengthy recession in the early Nineties and aggressively expanded by acquiring Woodward, Towers and parts of Robinson’s — three troubled department store chains. He unsuccessfully tried to add Kmart Corp.’s Canadian unit in 1991. Canadian analysts look for HBC to make another move on Kmart Canada, perhaps picking up 40 to 50 sites this year.
Kosich signed on with Hudson’s Bay in 1960 as a management trainee in Vancouver. He served in posts of increasing responsibility, becoming president and chief operating officer in 1987 and ceo in 1990. In a statement, Kosich said, “I’m pleased to be leaving the company in good hands.”