Kohl’s announced Tuesday that CEO Michelle Gass is leaving for a new opportunity after the retailer came under pressure to shake up its leadership. In a separate release, Levi Strauss & Co. said Gass will join the company in early January as president and step into the role of CEO within the next 18 months, succeeding Chip Bergh. Kohl’s — and Gass — have faced scrutiny and skepticism from investors, as the retailer invested in refreshing its brand and reported lackluster sales results. Activist investor Ancora Holdings has pushed Kohl’s to remove Gass from the position. Another activist investor, Macellum Advisors, also urged a change in leadership, including an ouster of the company’s chairman.
Total Retail’s Take: This news seemed inevitable as Gass was under intense pressure from investors to resign. The investors have been unhappy with the pace of Kohl’s recovery, expecting more progress in the department store chain’s comeback. That unhappiness escalated this summer after Kohl’s ended talks to sell to the Franchise Group, owner of The Vitamin Shoppe. Kohl’s net sales in fiscal 2022 are expected to be down 5 percent to 6 percent from a year ago, compared with a prior forecast for sales to be flat to up 1 percent. Kohl’s stock is down more than 40 percent so far this year. The investors will still have to win over a board that was loyal to Gass and her plan to remake the retailer from within, including redesigned stores, the introduction of new brands, a greater focus on growing e-commerce revenues.
As for Gass, she will take over as CEO at Levi Strauss in 2023 or early 2024, giving her the opportunity to build on the success the brand has enjoyed recently. Quite a stark contrast from the turnaround process she was leading at Kohl’s.