The Most Notable CEO Exits in Retail, Fashion and Footwear This Year

Nearly 630 CEOs have departed their posts since the start of the year — a rate not seen in at least 17 years, according to executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Such transitions can be attributed to a variety of factors, from run-of-the-mill retirement and succession to the #MeToo movement, which has seen notable leaders across a range of industries exit their roles.

Meanwhile, where retail is concerned, the sector as a whole has had to contend with a volatile stock market as well as consumer shifts to digital and experiential spending — and, more recently, the United States’ escalating tariff disputes with partner countries.

Most recently, President Donald Trump has been embroiled in a trade war with Beijing, which could lead to levies on an additional $300 billion of Chinese imports. He also previously made threats on all imports from Mexico unless the country took measures to crack down on immigration.

“Though the tariff threat with Mexico seems to have subsided, companies appear to be preparing for a contraction in the market after so many months of expansion,” VP of media and business development Andrew Challenger said in a statement.

Among the exits cited in the report, 253 CEOs moved into other positions within their companies — more often than not as a member of the board or another C-suite role. One-hundred seventy eight retired this year and 54 stepped into new posts at other companies, while eight reportedly left amid scandal and six faced allegations of professional or sexual misconduct.

Additionally, three executives were terminated and another two passed away. Challenger added that a number of CEOs left for various purposes and could not identify the reasons behind the 36 departures. (The Chicago-based business gathered its information — for the five-month period ended May 31 — from public filings, press releases and news reports.)

Here, FN reviews some of the major CEO farewells of the year in retail, fashion and footwear, starting with this month.

June

After 16 years leading Johnston & Murphy, Jon Caplan will retire from his post at the end of this month. The industry veteran, who spent more than 36 years in the footwear business, announced the news on Feb. 11. He will be succeeded by Danny Ewoldsen, who was named president of the historic brand in January 2018 and previously served as its EVP of retail and e-commerce.pres

Jon Caplan Johnston Murphy
Jon Caplan
CREDIT: Courtesy of Genesco

Claus-Dietrich Lahrs stepped down from his role as CEO of Bottega Veneta on June 17, passing on the torch to former Saint Laurent COO Bartolomeo Rongone. According to parent company Kering, Lahrs’ exit was due to personal reasons. His successor’s appointment is effective Sept. 1, after which Rongone will be reporting directly to Kering chairman and CEO François-Henri Pinault.

In a LinkedIn post on June 13, Vanessa LeFebvre announced that she was leaving her role as Lord & Taylor‘s president. It marked the end of her 13-month tenure at the company, which she joined in May 2018 after exiting a VP position at online personal styling service Stitch Fix. LeFebvre — who took the reins from Liz Rodbell — began her career with the storied retailer, where she spent 10 years as a buyer and DMM.

Calvin Klein, which has been undergoing dramatic changes within its business, appointed on June 10 its very first female CEO. Cheryl Abel-Hodges — who served as group president, Calvin Klein North America and the Underwear Group — replaced Steve Shiffman, who stepped down from his post to pursue other interests.

April

On April 23, Burlington Stores revealed its succession plan for the departure of longtime CEO Thomas Kingsbury. The executive, who also served as chairman and president, will step down on Sept. 16 after more than a decade in the role. He continues to support the company as executive chairman of its board of directors during the transition period. On Sept. 16, former Ross Stores president and COO Michael O’Sullivan will join the company as CEO.

Andrew Rosen relinquished his role as CEO of Theory to COO Dinesh Tandon, after leading the fashion label he co-founded 22 years ago. The change occurred on the first of April, after which he became an adviser to the firm. According to a New Yorker story dated September 2013, Rosen had meant to stay on for only one year following the company’s first acquisition in 2003. He also continues to serve as an advisor to labels such as Alice + Olivia and Rag & Bone.

Andrew Rosen and Alice + Olivia CEO Stacey Bendet.
Andrew Rosen and Alice + Olivia CEO Stacey Bendet
CREDIT: Shutterstock

March

Just days after its U.S. subsidiary filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Italy-based Diesel announced the departure of CEO Marco Agnolin, who left his position on March 28. His resignation came only a year after he joined the brand. According to Diesel, he has stayed on as part of the board “to guarantee the completion of planned activities.”

Diesel's Marco Agnolin
Marco Agnolin
CREDIT: Courtesy of Diesel

Hibbett Sports announced on March 22 the retirement of president and CEO Jeff Rosenthal and the beginning of its hunt for a new chief. The 21-year company veteran will remain in his post until a successor is named and is assisting the board with the search and transition period — after which he will continue to serve as a member of the board.

Ray Kelvin, founder and part owner of British high-street retailer Ted Baker, resigned as CEO on March 4 amid an investigation into allegations of misconduct and inappropriate physical behavior with staff. On April 11, Lindsay Page was confirmed to the post after serving as acting CEO since Kelvin took a leave of absence in December 2018.

On March 1, Alison Coville stepped down from her post as president of Hudson’s Bay and Home Outfitters. Parent company Hudson’s Bay Co. made the announcement in late February, retaining an executive search firm in the hunt for her replacement. The company is currently being led by key executives under the direction of CEO Helena Foulkes until a permanent successor is found.

February

Jon Epstein, president and global chief commercial officer of Fila North America, passed away on Feb. 15 at 63 years old. The footwear industry veteran — who first served as president and CEO from 1998 to 2003 then as head of the North American business in 2007 — helped lead the brand to a successful run in the 1980s as well as its resurgence in the past decade. He is succeeded by Jennifer Estabrook, who stepped into the role on April 9, becoming the first female president in Fila’s history.

On Feb. 13, Koichiro Kodama was named president and CEO of Asics‘ North American business, replacing Gene McCarthy, who had assumed the role in October 2015. The move was part of several changes to the division’s leadership team, including the appointment of Richard Sullivan as EVP of sales, categories and marketing; Craig Gillan as VP of operations; and Paul Ljucovic as VP of finance. The company’s Europe-based CEO, Alistair Cameron, praised McCarthy’s command of the brand “through an incredibly turbulent time for our industry.”

Asics CEO Gene McCarthy
Gene McCarthy
CREDIT: Courtesy of Asics

REI‘s president and CEO, Jerry Stritzke, resigned on Feb. 12 following the conclusion of an internal investigation surrounding a “personal and consensual relationship” between the executive and the leader of another organization in the outdoor industry. His official exit from the co-op happened on March 15, with COO Eric Artz first taking on the interim role and subsequently being named president and CEO on May 6.

January

Jim Gold, president and CMO at the Neiman Marcus Group, left his role on Jan. 29. The veteran executive served the company for nearly three decades, introducing and building distribution with luxury brands including Tom Ford and Prada. He crafted the business plan for the company’s Last Call off-price venture as well as consolidated the merchandising and planning teams of the retailer’s stores and direct-to-consumer operations. He remained with Neiman Marcus until March 15, which marked the opening date of its first New York City outpost at Hudson Yards.

News of David Kornberg‘s abrupt departure from Express came on Jan. 22, when the company terminated his leadership as CEO, president and as a member of the board of directors. (He stayed employed until Feb. 21.) As it searched for a permanent CEO and president, the board appointed Matthew Moellering as interim president and CEO — and ultimately selected Timothy Baxter, who took the helm on June 17.

This story will continue to be updated throughout the year.

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