Kohl's Turns to Starbucks Veteran to Succeed Mansell as CEO

  • Michelle Gass joined Kohl’s as chief customer officer in 2013
  • Mansell will pass the baton after annual meeting next May

Kohl’s Corp. will elevate Michelle Gass to the top job next year when longtime CEO Kevin Mansell retires, turning to a former Starbucks Corp. executive to help steer the department-store chain through a period of unprecedented disruption.

Gass, who currently serves as chief merchandising officer, will take the helm in May after the company’s next shareholder meeting. Mansell, 65, has been chief executive officer since 2008.

Michelle Gass

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Kohl’s is looking to Gass to help modernize a chain that’s facing an industrywide slump. Sluggish mall traffic and the incursion of e-commerce have dealt a blow to department stores, including Kohl’s, Macy’s Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. The company’s same-store sales -- a closely watched measure -- dropped 0.4 percent last quarter.

“The retail industry is going through a transformational amount of change,” Mansell said in a statement. “Michelle is extremely well qualified and positioned to lead Kohl’s through this evolution.”

Kohl’s shares rose less than 1 percent to $46.50 on Tuesday. They had been down 6.4 percent this year through Monday’s close.

As part of its makeover, Kohl’s teamed up with Amazon.com Inc. this month and will open areas in its stores that sell goods from the e-commerce giant. The 1,000-square-foot Amazon store-in-store concept will offer gadgets like the Echo voice-activated device and the Fire tablet within 10 Kohl’s locations.

Kohl’s also will begin accepting Amazon returns at 82 stores beginning next month.

Unlike rivals such as Macy’s, Sears Holdings Corp. and J.C. Penney, Kohl’s hasn’t been shuttering a large swath of locations. It’s opting instead to find new ways to entice customers to its current stores.

Starbucks Tenure

Gass worked at Starbucks for almost 17 years, overseeing marketing, food and other functions. She most recently served as president of the coffee chain’s Europe, Middle East and Africa region. The 49-year-old also previously worked at Procter & Gamble Co., the world’s largest consumer-products company.

She joined Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin-based Kohl’s in 2013 as chief customer officer and then took on the role of merchandising chief in 2015.

As part of the changes, Chief Operating Officer Sona Chawla will take the role of president. The move puts two women at the top of the retailer’s management ranks, a rare event for an S&P 500 company.

Chawla, who took the operating chief job in 2015, will continue focusing on efforts to make Kohl’s an “omnichannel” retailer, the company said. That means making it easier for shoppers to move seamlessly between brick-and-mortar and online operations.

Kohl’s also will be splitting up the chairman and CEO duties. It plans to have one of its independent directors take the chairman role when Mansell retires. Gass also will take a board seat.

Mansell, who worked at total of 35 years at Kohl’s, has served as chairman.

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