• Retail Dive

New J.C. Penney holds on to key officers as Soltau departs

By Ben Unglesbee

Published Jan. 4, 2021

Dive Brief:

  • J.C. Penney CFO Bill Wafford and Principal Accounting Officer Steve Whaley are staying on with the new J.C. Penney as the retailer's CEO, Jill Soltau, departs.

  • According to a securities filing, Wafford and Whaley recently resigned from their positions at the old Penney, now called the "Old Copper Company," which controls some of the department store chain's properties after the retail operations were sold in Chapter 11. A spokesperson confirmed that Wafford and Whaley are staying with the retailer under its new owners, making their departure from Old Copper Co. a formality.

  • Also departed from the old company were board members B. Craig Owens, Lisa Payne, Leonard Roberts, Javier Teruel and Ronald Tysoe. A spokesperson told Retail Dive the new Penney's governance structure was in place but would not say whether that included the board members departed from the old company.

Dive Insight:

The new Penney will have some familiar faces in the C-suite as it transitions to its new owners, Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management. But the company is on the hunt for a new chief executive after Soltau left the retailer.

Soltau came to Penney from crafts specialist Joann after helping that retailer boost its branding and merchandising. Amid hopes that she would improve Penney's long-ailing merchandising, she quickly built out a team focused on doing just that, improving assortment while rebuilding margins and profits.

To that end, Soltau and her team rolled out a women's merchandising revamp to nearly 100 stores and launched lab stores to test new initiatives like occasion and visual merchandising, contactless and curbside pick-up options, as well as store features like a women's styling room and lounge.

But her bid to turn the retailer around was always a long shot. Weighing against her te

am was Penney's multi-billion dollar debt load, as well as sector-wide ailments for department stores in a changing retail landscape.

Penney tried to ease its debt burden by negotiating with lenders when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the industry, forcing the retailer to temporarily shutter its stores. According to the retailer, the pandemic forced it to file for bankruptcy, though it had been in financial distress and the subject of bankruptcy speculation for years leading up to its Chapter 11.

After tense negotiations in bankruptcy, the retailer sold to Simon and Brookfield, joining a growing trend of landlord-owned retailers. Soltau's departure could indicate yet another change of direction for Penney, after a string of CEOs failed to change the trajectory of its declining sales over the past decade.

Simon Chief Investment Officer Stanley Shashoua is heading Penney for now as interim chief, while the new ownership group plans to set up a temporary office of the CEO to include key members of J.C. Penney's current leadership team. Simon and Brookfield have launched a search for a permanent chief executive for Penney.

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