- The former CEO of Payless is joining the board of J.C. Penney, the department store retailer announced this week.
- W. Paul Jones headed the now-defunct shoe retailer from 2012 until 2017, when he announced his retirement around the same time Payless exited its first trip through bankruptcy. (Payless filed for Chapter 11 a second time this year, opting to liquidate entirely.)
- Prior to his tenure at Payless, Jones was CEO of Shopko Stores (which also liquidated this year) from 2009 to 2012, and also served in leadership roles at Kohl's and May Department Stores. Penney Chairman Ron Tysoe credited Jones with operating and merchandising expertise that could serve the department store chain.
As it struggles to reposition itself, and stabilize its sales and finances, Penney has been filling out its executive ranks and now its board with retail veterans.
In June, it hired a new general merchandise manager to head its women's apparel category, a troubled spot for the retailer for the past several years. Stepping into the role was Victor Ejarque Lopez, previously general merchandise manager of global operations at Guess.
The retailer also hired a new chief customer officer in Shawn Gensch, former chief customer officer for Sprouts Farmers Market and a veteran of Target. Another Target veteran, Michelle Wlazlo, joined recently as Penney's new chief merchant.
Orchestrating the hires is CEO Jill Soltau, who has said building out the management team is a near-term priority for Penney. Soltau herself is a relatively new addition, too, stepping into the role last fall after the abrupt departure of Marvin Ellison for Lowe's.
Soltau brought with her merchandising chops, which Penney desperately needs after years of struggling to get its assortment mix right and keep hold of its core female customers.
Soltau and her team need all the help they can get. Penney faces numerous challenges — its attachment to malls, many of them subpar, as well as competition from off-pricers and online players. Added to its troubles is nearly $4 billion in debt and declining sales. Comps were down a troubling 5.5% in the first quarter, which was bad enough to get Penney a downgrade from Moody's.
Put bluntly, Penney has little room for error and little financial flexibility while it tries to complete a seemingly never-ending turnaround.