Kohl’s, the once prosperous retail chain now fighting for survival, is close to naming Tom Kingsbury as its permanent CEO, the New York Times reported last week. Kingsbury had been named interim boss by the board after previous CEO Michelle Gass announced in November she was leaving to become Levi’s brand president.
Kingsbury, a one-time executive at Burlington, was the nominated choice of Ancora Holdings, one of the activist investor groups seeking to force a sale of the Wisconsin-based company, which many now value more for its real estate holdings than its capabilities as a retailer.
“We are very pleased that Kohl’s will be appointing retail sector veteran Tom Kingsbury, who was nominated by our shareholder group in 2021, as its interim Chief Executive Officer,” Ancora Holdings said in a statement released at the time of Gass’ resignation. “We are also pleased that Tom and our group’s other designee, Margaret Jenkins, will be part of the new committee tasked with identifying the right permanent leader for the business. Ancora has been a long-term shareholder of Kohl’s and believes that under the right leadership, the Company can be a source of tremendous value for investors, customers, suppliers and employees.”
A Kohl’s representative said the company does not comment on “rumors or speculation,” but the company did offer comment regarding its decision to lay off 60 workers at its corporate headquarters, similar to pre-pandemic job cuts in early 2020, in Menomonee Falls.
“Last week, Kohl’s reorganized parts of our organization to drive greater efficiency in our operations,” Jen Johnson, Kohl’s SVP of corporate communications, said in a statement to Sourcing Journal. “These efforts, which primarily impacted Marketing and Merchandising teams, reorganized some leadership roles and positions, including the elimination of less than 60 positions. We put a great deal of planning into this decision and are offering a competitive severance package and outplacement services to all those affected. We appreciate the many contributions of the impacted associates and we thank them for their dedication and service to Kohl’s.”
Kohl’s also announced the appointment of Jennie Kent as chief legal officer and corporate secretary, effective Feb. 20. Kent comes over from the marketing company Quad where she had worked since 2010, rising from assistant general counsel to executive VP and chief legal and people officer.
Such a seasoned top lawyer might be in order for a company that figures to have an even bumpier year than 2022 when relentless efforts by activist investors such as Ancora Holdings and Macellum Advisors sought to force a sale of the 60-year-old company.
Kohl’s had been in exclusive sales talks with Franchise Group, which includes the chain retailer American Freight, Badcock Furniture and Buddy’s Home Furnishings, until July of last year when Gass and the board decided to halt negotiations and focus instead on the company’s real estate value, which include 410 owned locations, and more than 700 owned and operated or leased spaces.
The Franchise Group’s offer would have paid $60 a share. Kohl’s stock price, which had been as high as $68 per share in Nov. of 2021 had dropped to as low as $25 prior to Gass’ resignation, but it has crept up since the announcement of Kingsbury as interim CEO to $31 as of Monday morning.
In September of 2022, private equity firm Oak Street Real Estate Capital, based in Chicago, made a $2 billion bid for Kohl’s real estate holdings with the promise of leasing back the stores to the company for retail operation.
Kohl’s 2022 earnings report is expected Feb. 28. Kingsbury wasn’t present at Kohl’s Q3 earnings report meeting in December.
Also earlier this month, a Kohl’s location in Gastonia, N.C. was robbed of approximately $80,000 of merchandise when an assailant used a hammer to smash a display case and make off with jewelry, pepper spraying an employee who approached him.
Though there is video footage of the Jan. 17 event, the suspect remains on the loose, authorities say.