By Suzanne Kapner and Austen Hufford
Kohl's Corp. said Michelle Gass, a former Starbucks Corp. executive who joined the department store chain in 2013, will take over as chief executive next year as it looks to navigate a difficult retail landscape.
Kevin Mansell, Kohl's current CEO and chairman, will retire in May. The company has been analyzing candidates over the past two years to succeed Mr. Mansell, who has spent 35 years at Kohl's, including the last nine as CEO.
The company's board intends to make one of its current independent members chairman.
"We thought we'd be best served by announcing this today," Mr. Mansell said in an interview Tuesday, adding that the move was expected both internally and externally. Tomorrow, it's back to work, he said. "We have a lot riding on our holiday results."
Ms. Gass, 49 years old, joined Kohl's in 2013 after serving since 1996 at Starbucks, where her last role was running the company's Europe, Middle East and Africa business. She was initially Kohl's chief customer officer, which included managing marketing and e-commerce. In 2015, she gained responsibility for the company's merchandising, planning and product development.
Ms. Gass was a key driver of new partnerships with Under Armour Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. She launched Kohl's new loyalty program and helped develop cost-cutting measures that are expected to save $250 million over three years.
"There are noticeable contributions that Michelle has made in addition to proving herself as an incredible leader," Mr. Mansell said.
Since Mr. Mansell joined Kohl's as a divisional merchandise officer, the company has grown from a local Milwaukee-area retailer with a dozen locations to a national chain with more than 1,100 stores that generates $19 billion of annual sales.
Kohl's also said another top executive, Chief Operating Officer Sona Chawla, will become president. Ms. Chawla, 50, joined the company in late 2015 from Walgreens where she was chief marketing officer and ran e-commerce, setting up a succession race.
"We view both Ms. Gass and Ms. Chawla as strong internal promotions, with deep expertise in the omnichannel strategies that will be necessary to drive [Kohl's] next leg of growth," Jefferies analyst Randal Konik said in a research note.
Shares in Kohl's, down 6.4% this year, fell 0.9% to $45.79 in Tuesday trading.
Write to Suzanne Kapner at [email protected] and Austen Hufford at [email protected]