5 Bold Changes HBC CEO Helena Foulkes Has Made Since Taking the Helm

Many a leader has latched on to the buzz phrase “change agent” in recent years, but — just three months after taking the helm — HBC’s new chief, Helena Foulkes, is personifying the term with staggering accuracy.

A wave of alterations have followed the CVS veteran after she took the reins of HBC in February — becoming the first female CEO to lead the parent company of Saks Fifth Avenue and historic department store Lord & Taylor.

Her penchant for evolution is likely the reason struggling HBC poached Foulkes from CVS, where she led a transformation of the mega pharmacy chain — including a pledge to stop retouching ads by 2020 and decision in 2014 to halt tobacco sales.

Here, five major moves at HBC ushered in by Foulkes.

A New Leader for Lord & Taylor

After more than 30 years at Lord & Taylor — where she started as a dress buyer and ascended through the ranks to president in 2014 — Liz Rodbell announced in April that she would exit her post.

In May, the department store revealed that Vanessa LeFebvre, VP and general merchandise manager of women’s at online subscription service retailer Stitch Fix, would become Lord & Taylor’s new president, effective May 22.

“With a new leader dedicated to evolving our experience and merchandise assortment to best meet customer expectations and shopping preferences, we will take advantage of having a smaller footprint to rethink the model and focus on our digital opportunities,” Foulkes said of LeFebvre in a statement today, referencing the decision to trim the department store’s fleet.

Announcing LeFebvre’s hiring in May, Foulkes referred to the firm’s new addition as a “change agent.”

Vanessa LeFebvre Lord & Taylor president
Vanessa LeFebvre, Lord & Taylor’s new president.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Lord & Taylor

Shedding Stores

In a bid to better balance the Lord & Taylor’s brick-and-mortar and online presence, Foulkes plans to shed 10 Lord & Taylor stores through 2019.

“We are taking action to reposition Lord & Taylor for improved results and increased profitability,” she said today.

Flagship Shutdown

The historic New York store has been a Fifth Avenue staple for more than a century, but recent struggles to turn a profit have haunted the retailer.

Last year, HBC announced that the location — known for its Christmastime displays — had been sold to office company WeWork. At the time, the company said the 650,000-square-foot building would be partially transformed into office space, with 150,000 square feet left to house the store.

Under Foulkes’ leadership, today HBC announced it had ditched the latter part of those plans and would turn over the entire space to WeWork.

People Walk by Christmas Windows After the Unveiling of the Holiday Window Displays at the Lord and Taylor Store in New York New York Usa On 13 November 2007 Christmas Decorations and Displays Are Being Put out Earlier Each Year by Retailers in an Effort to Generate More Revenue From the HolidayUsa Christmas Decorations - Nov 2007
Lord & Taylor window displays.
CREDIT: Justin Lane/EPA/Rex/Shutterstock

Two Major Hires From CVS

In the three months since she joined HBC, Foulkes has brought in two of her previous CVS colleagues to take on leadership roles at her new place of work.

In April, Foulkes tapped Bari Harlam — who launched CVS Pharmacy’s ExtraCare program before exiting the firm in 2011 — to serve as HBC’s chief marketing officer. Last month, she appointed Stephen Gold — formerly EVP of technology operations and innovation, and chief information officer, at CVS Health — as chief technology and digital operations officer.

“Over the last month, we have worked rapidly to put in place a leadership team focused on driving business results, streamlining our processes and fostering a culture of accountability,” Foulkes said today of the recent appointments at the company.

Gilt Groupe Sale

Two years after acquiring the off-price luxury goods e-tailer, HBC said Monday that would sell Gilt to flash sale site Rue La La.

“Our decision to divest Gilt will allow us to focus our time and resources on the businesses with the greatest potential to drive operating performance, and I am confident that the retail operations are moving in the right direction under Helena’s leadership,” said HBC governor and executive chairman Richard Baker.

A few of the shoe styles at the Gilt by Appointment showroom in New York.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Gilt.

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