Kohl’s CEO Headed to Levi’s After Bumpy Ride at Ailing Dept Store


After four and a half tumultuous years atop Kohl’s, in which the Wisconsin-based department store chain saw its valuation cut in half, CEO Michelle Gass is headed to San Francisco, where she will serve as president of Levi Strauss before taking over for current CEO Chip Bergh within the next 18 months.

In announcing the new hire Tuesday (Nov. 8), the iconic denim brand, which is in the process of updating its fleet of 3,200 physical stores and shop-in-shop locations, touted Gass’ long career at Starbucks and Procter & Gamble as making her uniquely qualified to lead the 170-year-old brand’s digital transformation.

“We are delighted that an executive with Michelle’s background, experience and stature is joining as president to work side-by-side with Chip for a meaningful transition period before becoming CEO,” said Bob Eckert, chairman of the LS&Co. Board of Directors, in the release. “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.”

The news was greeted coolly by Levi’s investors but welcomed by Kohl’s shareholders, who bid up shares of the beleaguered department store after having spent most of the past two years trying to force the chain to change direction, sell assets or divisions or bring on new board members.

For its part, Kohl’s said it has appointed current director and former Burlington Coat Factory CEO Tom Kingsbury to serve as interim CEO beginning Dec. 2, while the search for a permanent successor is underway.

“Despite a challenging economic environment, Kohl’s is well positioned for long-term success with its unique off-mall store footprint, omnichannel presence, and loyal customer base,” Kingsbury said in a statement, while saying he plans to continue with the retailer’s “refresh and innovation strategy” that is based upon its cornerstone partnership with cosmetics giant Sephora.

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