J.C. Penney on Tuesday announced the appointment of Bill Wafford as chief financial officer, effective April 8. He succeeds Michael Fung, who had been serving in the interim after some shuffling of the role in October.
Wafford arrives from The Vitamin Shoppe, where as CFO he oversaw the company's finance strategy and "played a significant role in reducing debt, decreasing inventory and improving operating income in 2018," according to a Penney press release. He joined the struggling supplements retailer in 2017 as senior vice president overseeing strategy, finance, international operations and business development. He's also had stints at Walgreens Boots Alliance, KPMG's advisory practice group, Archstone Consulting, Bank of America and Target.
To replace Wafford in the interim, The Vitamin Shoppe has named Chief Accounting Officer Charles Knight. Before joining the retailer last year, Knight had held various executive positions at Toys R Us since 1990, most recently as senior vice president-corporate controller, according to a company press release.
Thanks to his tenure at The Vitamin Shoppe, Wafford may have experience with turnarounds, and Penney CEO Jill Soltau pointed that out in her statement on Tuesday. But his new job at an aging mass merchant with various departments, a massive brick-and-mortar footprint and a seemingly endless turnaround, will bring him a host of more complex challenges.
His work at Target, where, as Penney notes, he managed financial planning and analysis for the $8 billion women's and men's apparel divisions, may serve him well, as women's apparel is a particular weak spot for the Texas-based chain. But the retailer's woes in that department have more to do with merchandising than with finances. The retailer has flailed in apparel, even after a dramatic reset over a year ago, and that can't continue, according to GlobalData Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders, who told Retail Dive earlier this year that the category remains Penney's biggest problem and "is now having a negative knock-on effect on other sectors like home and electronics."
The company got one of retail's coal-filled stockings at the holidays, which resulted in fourth quarter total net sales falling 9.5% to $3.67 billion and net income down to $75 million. On a shifted basis, comparable sales in the quarter fell 4%; on an unshifted basis, they fell 6%. As part of its expense trimming, the company is set to shutter 27 more stores this year as it continues to eye its real estate.