Inside Foot Locker’s CEO Move

After five years at the helm of Foot Locker Inc., Ken Hicks said the time is right to pass the torch.

The executive, credited with dramatically growing the company’s sales and earnings, will be succeeded by COO Richard Johnson, who begins work on Dec. 1. 

Hicks will continue as Foot Locker’s executive chairman through May 2015 and will remain involved in day-to-day operations during the first quarter of next year.

“As CEO, my job is to make sure we have the right strategy, the right people and the right resources to drive the business,” Hicks told Footwear News on Tuesday. “It’s also to make sure the company is prepared for the future. Over the years, we have been developing Dick as a potential successor. Now is the right time for him to step up.”

Hicks, 61, added that Johnson has led all of the largest businesses at Foot Locker, from e-commerce to the U.S. to Europe, as well as spearheaded major acquisitions and ambitious remodel projects.

“We’re fortunate as a company to have an ability to do a smooth transition,” Hicks said, adding that he is undecided about whether to seek another executive role. For the near-term, at least, he is looking forward to spending more time with his wife. “I have no idea [what I’m going to do]. For the last five years, all I’ve focused on is work.”

For his part, Johnson said Foot Locker has major opportunities going forward across all areas of the business.

“We’re soon going to report our 19th quarter of sales and profit growth,” the executive said. “I’m not going to [let that drop off]. We’ve got an aggressive team and we’ll be laying out new goals in the spring.”

Foot Locker’s shares closed down 4.5 percent on Tuesday, but market watchers shrugged off the decline.

Sam Poser, an analyst at Sterne Agee, said he is confident about the future under Johnson.

“We cannot stress enough the positive change [Ken] brought to the Foot Locker organization. We believe that [Dick] has both the expertise and leadership skills to build upon the successes of the last five years,” Poser wrote in a research note.

Mitch Kummetz, senior analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co., told FN he is focused on seeing how Johnson will lead store remodel strategies and the apparel business. He also said Europe and the women’s market will be important growth areas going forward.

“In the short term, of course there is going to be speculation about the athletic cycle and strength of basketball, but I believe [Foot Locker’s] third-quarter results will come out in a few weeks and things will be good,” said Kummetz. “I’m pretty confident in this business. They continue to put up good results.”

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