Activist investor pushes to oust Kohl’s CEO and chairman

Activist investor pushes to oust Kohl’s CEO and chairman

Michelle Gass

Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Activist investor Ancora Holdings is pushing to remove Kohl’s chief executive and chairman, according to a report from Reuters.

Ancora sent a letter to the board on Thursday asking for the replacement of CEO Michelle Gass and Chairman Peter Boneparth. The firm, which has a 2.5% stake in Kohl’s, wants new leadership so the company can revamp its business.

“Kohl’s needs new leadership with demonstrated experience in cost containment, margin expansion, product catalog optimization and, most importantly, turnarounds,” read the letter obtained by Reuters.

The push comes a few months after Kohl’s terminated its talks to sell to Franchise Group. The company had been encouraged by activist investors to pursue a sale. Franchise Group proposed a bid of $60 per share, before the uncertain economic environment forced it to bring its potential offer down to $53.

Gass came from Starbucks to take over as CEO for Kevin Mansell in 2018, with plans including the expansion of Sephora’s presence in Kohl’s stores. Ancora called her a “talented leader” and praised the Sephora partnership. Boneparth has been a director at the company since 2008 and became chairman this year.

“During the Boneparth era, the Board has created an environment in which Ms. Gass is no longer well-positioned to lead,” the Ancora letter said.

The activist investor, along with Macellum Advisors, attempted to seize control of Kohl’s board in 2021, an endeavor that the company rejected. In that attempt, Ancora, along with other stakeholders, pushed for new directors with retail experience, inventory reduction and the sale of Kohl’s real estate.

Kohl’s received a bid on its property from Oak Street Real Estate Capital earlier in September. The real estate investor offered as much as $2 billion for the store’s property, which Kohl’s would lease back for its store locations.

“Now you’ve got an environment where financing has changed so much that it may in fact be more attractive to use real estate as a monetization vehicle,” Boneparth told CNBC in a phone interview prior to the Oak Street offer.

Kohl’s and Ancora Holdings did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shares of Kohl’s are down about 43% so far this year.

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