Why JCPenney Just Made These Big Executive Changes

As it continues to undergo a retail makeover, J.C. Penney Co. has announced its latest series of executive changes.

Starting Jan. 21, Mike Robbins, EVP of private brands and supply chain, will take on the role of EVP, chief stores and supply chain officer. Truett Horne will join as chief transformation officer — responsible for developing the company’s strategic initiatives as it aims to overhaul its 116-year-old business.

“These executive changes reflect the strength and depth of each leader’s responsibilities and their enormous potential to drive change aligned with our customer’s needs and expectations,” CEO Jill Soltau said in a statement. “By appointing and recruiting the right leaders who have the expertise and fortitude to accelerate a turnaround strategy, our senior executive team will play an instrumental role in energizing teams, connecting with our customers and positioning JCPenney for profitable growth.”

The hiring of a chief transformation officer indicates the beleaguered retailer’s commitment to reorganization following a sequence of failed attempts at winning over shoppers in the digital era.

According to McKinsey & Co. (where Horne serves as an associate principal), the role of the chief transformation officer rests on the “ability to strike the right balance between carrot and stick, between short-term improvement and long-term value, and between making sure line managers themselves take responsibility for change and personally ensuring they deliver results quickly and with suitably high ambition.”

JCPenney is also in the hunt for other top leadership positions, including a chief customer officer, who is responsible for leading marketing initiatives and shaping the company’s messaging, as well as a chief merchant — a position to be held by Robbins until a new candidate is selected.

In the past year, JCPenney shut down underperforming stores, revealing last week another round of closures over the next few months as it undergoes a wider evaluation of its brick-and-mortar portfolio. (The company operates about 850 stores across the country.) It subsequently deepened its focus on omnichannel offerings and added top-tier brands to its product mix as the company continued to lose ground with competitors such as Macy’s and Kohl’s.

The management shuffle comes just a few months after Soltau took the helm in October, succeeding Marvin Ellison, who left for Lowe’s in July.

Additionally, JCPenney said that its search for a chief financial officer is “well underway,” following the departure of Jeffrey Davis in September. The last three years have seen a number of executives fill the role: Edward Record, who resigned in mid-2017 to be replaced in an interim capacity by Andrew Drexler; followed by Davis, who held the position for 14 months before Michael Fung was appointed interim CFO.

As of 2 p.m. ET, JCPenney’s stock was in the green, up 0.77 percent.

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