6 Retailers Banking on a New CEO in 2012

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Retailers are ending the year with major shakeups at the top.

The second half of 2011 brought the resignation and retirement of several major retail leaders. For most of the companies, these changes at the top couldn't come fast enough.

With a batch of retailers now entering 2012 with a new CEO (or on the hunt for a successor) the question is can new managers revive these sinking ships?

Here's a look at the companies betting on new leadership in 2012.


Wall Street celebrated Avon's ( AVP) decision this week to search for a new CEO.

Andrea Jung, who has led the beauty company for 12 years, will remain chairman. Jung will work with the board to find her replacement and will continue to serve in both roles until her successor is named. Shares of the company soared more than 6% on the news Wednesday, as investors have been clamoring for a change in leadership.

Avon has been pressured by lackluster earnings and has been the center of a regulatory investigation. In October, the Securities and Exchange Commission said it was investigating Avon's contact with financial analysts in 2010 and 2011. It is also reviewing Avon's own bribery probe that began in 2008; it started in China, but has since moved to other countries.

Earlier in the year, the company said it is reviewing all aspects of its business and withdrew its revenue forecast for the year.

Jung will now serve more as a figure head of the Avon brand, similar to the role William Lauder took at Estee Lauder.

"While it has been under-earning for many years, we think a new CEO will find fertile ground given Avon's historically strong local currency sales growth and high gross margin," BMO Capital Markets analyst Connie Maneaty wrote in a note. "Given that it could be several months before a new CEO is named, a turnaround will take time to execute and we think EPS potential will become more visible starting in 2013."


Yes, Talbots ( TLB) was heading towards its downward spiral before Trudy Sullivan took the reins in mid-2007, but she now leaves the company in an even more precarious position than when she joined.

Sullivan, who previously held leadership roles at Liz Claiborne ( LIZ)and J.Crew, announced her resignation from the women's apparel retailer earlier this month, just one day before the company said it received a buyout offer from private-equity firm Sycamore Capital. Talbots subsequently rejected the $205.2 million bid.

Ultimately, Sullivan was the wrong person for the job.

Like the rest of the women's apparel space, Talbots struggled with excess inventory and merchandise misses that didn't resonate with its increasingly frugal core shopper. But for the most part, rivals like Ann ( ANN) and Chico's ( CHS) have managed to get on a path toward recovery, while Talbots lagged.

In its third quarter, Talbots swung to a wider-than-expected loss due to deep discounts and promotions.

But despite Talbots reporting a loss in three of the last four years, Sullivan took home $6 million in 2010, double her pay from the year prior. She will also receive a $5 million severance package.

Talbots is currently searching for Sullivan's replacement, hiring executive search firm Spencer Stuart to conduct the search. Sullivan will remain at the company until it names her replacement.

J.C. Penney

J.C. Penney ( JCP) is betting on former Apple ( AAPL) exec Ron Johnson to correct the mistakes of former leader Myron Ullman III.

Ullman joined J.C. Penney in 2004, leading the company during the peak of its decline. Ullman has been criticized for poor merchandising decisions, but he can be credited for bringing in brands like Liz Claiborne, MNG by Mango and Sephora.

In his defense, his tenure was marred by the recession, which hurt the pockets of J.C. Penney's core middle-class shopper. But this didn't stop Macy's ( M) and Kohl's ( KSS) from barreling ahead.

Johnson, who has been credited with the success of Apple's retail footprint, assumed the role on Nov. 1 and already is building up a powerhouse team, hiring Michael Francis from Target ( TGT) to serve as president.

The hope is that Johnson will turn J.C. Penney into a modern shopping destination as he did for Apple. But first he must revive the department store's stale image, which has resulted in sagging sales behind Macy's and Kohl's.

American Eagle Outfitters

American Eagle Outfitters ( AEO) named Robert Hanson as CEO in November to succeed Jim O'Donnell who will retire in January.

Hanson, who most recently served at the global president of Levi's, will assume the role on Jan. 30.

O'Donnell has led American Eagle since November 2003. After being appointed to the post, shares of American Eagle surged 182%, hitting an all-time high in January 2007. Since reaching that high, however, the stock has tumbled 58% and shares are about flat for the year-to-date period.

Amid the recession, American Eagle struggled to remain competitive against deep price cuts from rivals like Abercrombie & Fitch ( ANF) and was plagued by merchandise misses. In the first half of 2011, the teen retailer was hurt by weak sales, but has seen a bit of a turnaround in the past two quarters.

Bon-Ton Stores

Bon-Ton's ( BONT) CEO Byron Bergren announced his resignation from the company in November.

He will remain at the chain until the company can find his successor and will then transition to chairman. Bergren, who took the reins at Bon-Ton in 2004, did not provide a reason for his departure.

Shares of the company have languished for the latter part of Bergren's tenure, and John Delta, chief operating officer at Management CV, a research firm that serves institutional money managers and hedge funds, said he is skeptical about Bergren's move to lead the board post-retirement.

In its third quarter, Bon-Ton reported a loss of $1.21 a share, significantly wider than analysts' estimates, while revenue plunged 6.3% to $656.1 million. The company's decision to raise prices on some apparel to offset higher costs had a negative impact, with same-store sales tumbling 5.9%.

Bon-Ton also reduced its full-year outlook. It now expects a loss of between 65 cents a share and a profit of 25 cents, from a prior forecast of a profit of 75 cents to $1.

Before becoming CEO of Bon-Ton, Bergren served as president and chief executive of Elder-Beerman Stores, which Bon-Ton acquired in 2003. Prior to that, he served in various positions at Belk department stores.

Bon-Ton, which operates 276 departments stores in the Northeast and Midwest, plans to make a major push into e-commerce in 2012 which would ultimately require a leader with the right technology and online merchandising background.

Blue Nile

Blue Nile ( NILE)said last month that its CEO Diane Irvine resigned, providing no explanation for her departure.

Vijay Talwar, senior vice president and general manager of its international business, was named interim CEO. The company is currently seeking Irvine's successor, with the search being led by Chairman Mark Vadon.

Irvine had been with Blue Nile since the company was founded more than a decade ago, serving as chief financial officer before assuming the CEO post.

In its third quarter, Blue Nile's earnings fell short of Wall Street's estimates, sending shares free-falling nearly 20%. While the online jeweler's sales rose 11% to $75 million, the rest of the report didn't look so hot, with profit plunging 32% and the company offering a weak outlook for the end of the year.

>>To see these stocks in action, visit the 6 Retailers Banking on a New CEO in 2012 portfolio on Stockpickr.

- Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York.

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