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JCPenney Starts Search for New CEO as Soltau Exits

JCPenney’s going to start 2021 on the hunt for a new chief executive officer.

Jill Soltau, who joined the company two years ago as CEO, will leave the company on Dec. 31, JCPenney said on Wednesday. While the retailer is conducting its executive search, a temporary office of the CEO will be established and will include key members of JCPenney’s current leadership team. The company said that Stanley Shashoua, Simon Property Group’s chief investment officer, will be named interim CEO, effective Jan. 1.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy court protection in May. The original company remains in bankruptcy proceedings and is expected to exit Chapter 11 in the first half of 2021, with its first-lien creditor group owning what’s left of its assets. Those assets include real estate holdings consisting of 160 company-owned store locations placed into one real estate investment trust (REIT) and six distribution centers placed into a second REIT. The retail and operating assets have already been acquired by the retailer’s two largest landlords, Simon and Brookfield Asset Management.

Soltau, who is highly respected in the retail industry, came aboard JCPenney to steer its restructuring process. She began by pulling hardlines categories from the stores to focus the retailer back to its roots in softlines, such as apparel and soft textiles for home. With the sale of the operations out of bankruptcy, her job is largely done. Soltau was previously CEO of Joann Stores and replaced former CEO Marvin Ellison, who left to join Lowe’s as its chief executive.

The new CEO will have a formidable task in bringing customers back into the JCPenney fold. The new owners will need to find a leader who can reimagine what a modern-day JCPenney can be, probably with new brands—Authentic Brands Group, which has partnered with Simon and Brookfield on other retail deals, is reviewing brands in its portfolio that might do well at the mass merchant—and targeting a different, possibly younger, customer base.