Saks Owner Hudson's Bay Appoints CVS Executive Helena Foulkes as CEO

Updated on
  • Foulkes becomes first woman to head department-store company
  • HBC under pressure from activist investor to go private

Helena Foulkes

Photographer: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Hudson’s Bay Co., the owner of Saks Fifth Avenue, named CVS Health Corp. executive Helena Foulkes its first female chief executive officer as the department-store operator struggles with declining traffic and a restless activist investor.

Foulkes -- ranked among the most influential women in business by Fortune magazine -- will take the helm on Feb. 19 after serving as executive vice president of CVS Health and president of its pharmacy unit. She’ll be tasked with improving both physical and online sales, Toronto-based Hudson’s Bay said Monday.

“Helena is a transformational leader who will invigorate the business with a new perspective as we position HBC for the future,” Chairman Richard Baker said in a statement. Foulkes replaces Baker, who has been serving as interim CEO since Jerry Storch stepped down last year.

The retailer agreed in October to sell its iconic Lord & Taylor building in Manhattan and unload a minority share to a private equity firm to reduce debt. With pessimism on the department-store industry weighing on Hudson’s Bay shares, activist Land & Buildings Investment Management has pressed for a go-private transaction, arguing the company is undervalued and should look for ways to unlock value.

Quarterly Loss

In December Hudson’s Bay reported a larger-than-expected third-quarter loss as an operations overhaul that included 2,000 job cuts undermined its bid to boost e-commerce. Shares fell as much as 1.9 percent to C$10.15 on Monday. They’ve lost more than a third of their value in the past two years.

While Foulkes oversaw operations at almost 9,700 stores in her most recent role at CVS, she has little experience in apparel. Her departure comes as CVS is trying to obtain regulatory approval for its $67.5 billion deal to buy insurer Aetna Inc. If the deal goes through, CVS is expected to transform its stores into health hubs where consumers can get care, such as vision and hearing services, as well as the prescription drugs and retail items.

Foulkes, who led a push to stop selling tobacco at CVS, will now head a network of more than 480 stores in North America and Europe. Hudson’s Bay has sought to boost growth in part by partnering with Walmart Inc. and with office-sharing firm WeWork Cos.

— With assistance by Robert Langreth, and Scott Deveau

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