Michelle Gass leaves Kohl’s as CEO for Levi’s

(Source: Kohl’s/Facebook)

Michelle Gass, CEO of Kohl’s Corporation, is to depart the department store chain next month to join Levi Strauss & Co (LS&Co) as its new president. 

Gass will step down as CEO and member of Kohl’s board on December 2. Tom Kingsbury, a director nominated by hedge funds Macellum Advisors and Ancora Holdings, will then serve as interim CEO until a permanent successor is named. 

“Given that the upcoming third-quarter results will provide no relief from Kohl’s chronic underperformance, it is unsurprising that Michelle Gass is to relinquish her role as CEO,” commented Neil Saunders, MD of GlobalData. 

“This will be seen as a sacrificial offering to investors, who have long pushed for widespread change in the management suite.”

Grass’s appointment at LS&Co will take effect a month after she leaves Kohl’s. In her new role at Levi’s, she will report to the group’s president & CEO Chip Bergh, overseeing Levi’s brand and the company’s global digital and commercial operations. The company said in the announcement that the board has put in motion a succession plan for her to succeed Bergh as CEO within the next 18 months. 

“One of my biggest legacies at LS&Co will be my successor, passing the baton to someone who will take the company to the next level,” said Bergh. 

“She has a track record of building brands and talent. Michelle also brings more than 25 years of retail and omnichannel experience, along with a demonstrated track record of innovation, driving transformational ‘big ideas’ not just on products but also business models.”

As CEO of Kohl’s, Gass drove a significant reinvention effort for more than 1100 Kohl’s stores, while growing the digital business at a double-digit compounded annual growth rate to more than $6 billion. She has also led the introduction of Amazon returns and the partnership with Sephora, which has expanded to 600 Sephora at Kohl’s shops. 

“Although many of these things have been insufficient to move the dial, it is fair to say that Gass has saved Kohl’s from more serious decline,” said Saunders. “As such, we believe her legacy should be viewed favourably.”

“Michelle’s deep retail and omnichannel experience combined with her track record of building brands and meaningful innovation is a perfect fit for the skills needed to lead this company for the long term and create significant value for our stakeholders,” said Bob Eckert, chairman of the LS&Co board.

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