Can a new CEO revitalize J.C. Penney’s business?
J.C. Penney announced earlier this week that it has successfully concluded its search for a new CEO with the appointment Jill Soltau, former president and CEO of Joann Stores, to the position.
Ms. Soltau joins a company that has seen its stock price decline 57 percent over the past year. A turnaround plan begun under former CEO Marvin Ellison emphasizing improved supply chain and omnichannel execution along with an increased focus on categories such as appliances, athletic wear and women’s apparel has failed to produce the gains necessary to help Penney cut into its debt of more than $4 billion in a significant way. Same-store sales for the chain only improved 0.2 percent for the first six months of the year in a highly favorable retailing environment.
When Mr. Ellison announced in May that he was leaving Penney to join Lowe’s, many saw it as an admission that he saw little hope of turning the department store’s business around. Subsequent defections by the chain’s chief customer and financial officers only added to the perception that Penney is in trouble.
Paul Brown, the board director who chaired Penney’s CEO search committee, said the company has found an executive in Ms. Soltau who can lead a turnaround.
“We wanted someone with rich apparel and merchandising experience and found Jill to be an ideal fit,” said Mr. Brown in a statement. “Not only is she an established CEO and former chief merchant, her depth of experience in product development, marketing, e-commerce and store operations have been an important basis for the turnaround work she spearheaded at prior companies.”
Ms. Soltau believes she is the right person in the right position to lead Penney going forward.
“I am highly passionate about the customer and I spent my entire career focused on the needs of a value-based consumer by researching, understanding and meeting her expectations for style, quality and inspiration,” she said. “Every position I’ve held has prepared me for this role, and I couldn’t be more excited to meet the talented and hard-working J.C. Penney teams and get to work.”
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing J.C. Penney? How do you expect Jill Soltau to address them?