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Will Kohl’s new CEO prove to be a good shepherd or a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Tom Kingsbury is no longer the interim CEO of Kohl’s. The company yesterday confirmed earlier reports by formally announcing that Mr. Kingsbury has been named to the position on a permanent basis while continuing to serve on its board of directors.

Mr. Kingsbury follows Michelle Gass, who left Kohl’s in December after a contentious tenure during which she battled activist investors who at various times pushed for a sale of the company, and wanted to spin off its real estate assets and split its stores and online operations into separate publicly traded businesses.

Kohl’s new CEO came to the job as part of an April 2021 deal that the retailer’s leadership and board made with those activist inventors, Macellum Advisors and Legion, to appoint directors they supported. Mr. Kingsbury officially joined Kohl’s board in October 2021 following the close of its annual meeting of shareholders.

Retail experience will not be an issue for Mr. Kingsbury as he formally takes the leadership helm at Kohl’s. He boasts more than 40 years in the business, including serving as president and CEO of Burlington Stores between 2008 and 2019. He was SVP, information services, e-commerce, marketing and business development at Kohl’s between 2006 and 2008. Mr. Kingsbury currently serves on the boards of Big Lots, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Tractor Supply in addition to Kohl’s.

“This is a pivotal time for Kohl’s, and I am excited and energized to work with our talented team to elevate our performance and create value,” said Mr. Kingsbury in a statement. “During the last few months, I have seen the passion and dedication of the Kohl’s team and the unique value we can bring to our customers nationwide. I look forward to partnering with the board and leadership team to build on our strengths and deliver on our strategy for our shareholders and other stakeholders.”

Kohl’s has struggled to distinguish itself from its competitors in recent years as first the pandemic and then supply chain challenges and inflation took a toll on its performance. The retailer under Ms. Gass sought to expand its presence in athleisure, build its private brand contribution and forged brand partnerships (Amazon.com, Levi’s and Sephora) but failed to gain the traction many thought it should. The chain  in November posted a net sales decrease of 7.2 percent with comps down 6.9 percent.



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