Serra to Retire From Foot Locker

Analysts were generally positive about Foot Locker Inc.’s appointment of J.C. Penney Co.’s Ken Hicks as its new president and CEO — and they said the exec was inheriting a healthy company, thanks to the leadership of retiring chief Matt Serra.

Foot Locker announced late Thursday that Serra would retire, confirming several months of speculation.

“I am leaving the company in very good financial shape in a very difficult environment,” Serra told Footwear News late Thursday. “[Ken] is a well-rounded retail executive. He’s got a lot of experience.” Serra said the pair had worked together briefly at the now-defunct May Department Stores.

Hicks, who will begin work at Foot Locker on Aug. 17, was most recently president and chief merchandising officer at JCPenney. Before joining the department store, he gained experience in the shoe industry at Payless ShoeSource, where he was president from 1999 to 2002.

“Ken Hicks is an outstanding strategist, leader and business thinker,” said Matt Rubel, chairman and CEO of Collective Brands Inc., which owns Payless ShoeSource. “He will bring fresh ideas and build on the good work that was done prior.”

“Ken’s a good man and a good choice,” added Tom O’Riordan, CEO of American Sporting Goods, which sells several brands at Foot Locker. “He did a nice job at JCPenney, and I think JCPenney will miss him.”

Analysts were also upbeat about the news.

“I would think his experience in merchandising and [operations] would apply well to Foot Locker,” added Jeff Van Sinderen, an analyst with B. Riley & Co. “There will be a learning curve associated with [athletic specialty retail], but he knows footwear.” At the same time, Van Sinderen said he was surprised to learn that Serra was departing, given that he has been “such a fixture at the company.”

Sam Poser, an analyst with Sterne Agee & Leach, said Serra was leaving behind a well-run business.

“The place is in pretty good shape right now; it’s well organized,” Poser said. “Now we’ll see if they can take it to the next level. There are still a bunch of things that can be done there.”

While at JCPenney, Hicks was instrumental in helping to bring exclusives to the department store, including the American Living line, launched in collaboration with Ralph Lauren, and Fabulosity, created with Kimora Lee Simmons.

JCPenney said it would conduct a search for Hicks’ successor. In the interim, Myron Ullman, chairman and CEO, will assume Hicks’ responsibilities. The company declined to comment further at press time.

In a statement issued Thursday, Hicks said he was excited to join the Foot Locker team. “It is rare that an opportunity to lead an international specialty retailer like Foot Locker arises,” he said.

Serra, 64, will continue as chairman of Foot Locker until his planned retirement at the end of the company’s fiscal year, Jan. 30, 2010.  He will retire from the board of directors on that date.

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