Hudson's Bay Co. CEO Helena Foulkes will step down from her role effective March 13, the company said on Tuesday. Richard Baker, HBC's governor and executive board chairman, will take over.
The announcement came as HBC also said it had completed its move to go private, according to a company press release.
Storch's departure and Foulkes' arrival as chief executive a couple of years ago were widely seen as a power maneuver by Baker; now Baker takes over the top spot, and Foulkes is out.
Canadian activist investor Land & Buildings Investment Management at the time had characterized Storch's exit as a "consolidation of power" on Baker's part, and an attempt by the board "to buy time and placate investors to address under performance and undervaluation."
The firm had been pressing Hudson's Bay to sell off its best properties and deliver the proceeds to investors, perhaps through a go-private buyout, two things that have since materialized. Last year, HBC sold Lord & Taylor's Italianate Fifth Avenue flagship to coworking company WeWork, sold Lord & Taylor's business to resale subscription e-retailer Le Tote and shuttered its Canadian standalone home goods and furniture business.
More recently, amid the take-private effort initiated by Baker last year, the firm criticized him once again, saying his "approach has decisively demonstrated that he is unqualified and far too conflicted to continue as Governor of the Board of Directors, and for that matter, to continue as a director of HBC at all."
Other observers in the past have noted that Baker is more real estate developer than retailer. One, Doug Stephens, author of "Reengineering Retail: The Future of Selling in a Post-Digital World," told Retail Dive in an email that Baker's ascension to CEO is no surprise, that it's been his end-game for the last five years "at least," and that Foulkes was there all along to help set the company up for going private. He added that the company's real estate remains its primary focus.
"He no longer needs a retailer at the helm because [it's] becoming pretty clear that HBC's retail days are over," Stephens said. "This is now about liquidating real estate holdings and converting any remaining assets to cash. Baker is certainly wise enough to know that should a deep recession ensue, the value of HBC, which is largely based on real estate holdings would plummet. Therefore it's mission critical to wind it all down quickly and extract as much cash as possible."