The chief executive of Kohl’s is moving on — to another big job.
Michelle Gass has been appointed to the new position of president, Levi Strauss & Co., effective Jan. 2. The appointment is part of a succession plan whereby she will succeed Chip Bergh, who has served as CEO of Levi Strauss since 2011, within the next 18 months. Gass will step down as CEO and board member of Kohl's on December 2.
“We are delighted that an executive with Michelle’s background, experience and stature is joining as president to work side-by-side with Chip for a meaningful transition period before becoming CEO,” said Bob Eckert, chairman, Levi Strauss & Co. “Michelle’s deep retail and omnichannel experience combined with her track record of building brands and meaningful innovation is a perfect fit for the skills needed to lead this company for the long term and create significant value for our stakeholders.”
Kohl’s named Tom Kingsbury, a director since 2021 and the former CEO of Burlington Stores, as interim CEO, effective Dec. 2, until a permanent replacement is found. The board has formed a committee to oversee the search for a new CEO.
Gass joined Kohl’s in 2013 and has served as chief executive since May 2018. Her leadership has been called into question in recent years by activist investors unhappy with the company’s performance. In September, Ancora Holdings Group sent a letter to the board calling for new leadership and the removal of Gass and board chairman Peter Boneparth. The letter came nearly three months after Kohl’s, citing “market volatility,” said it had ended its strategic review process and would no longer consider selling itself.
In announcing Gass’ departure, Kohl’s also reported preliminary third-quarter results. It said comparable sales fell 6.9% in the period, with net sales down 7.2% from a year ago.
“The board is grateful for Michelle’s many contributions since she joined the company in 2013,” stated Boneparth. “Under her leadership, the company has driven a strategic transformation, expanded its partnerships and brand portfolio, and supported an inclusive and collaborative culture.”
Levi Strauss products are sold in more than 110 countries worldwide through a combination of chain retailers, department stores, online sites and global footprint of approximately 3,100 retail stores and shop-in-shops. The company's reported 2021 net revenues were $5.8 billion.
“I am thrilled to join Levi Strauss & Co., with its iconic brands, incredible team and unwavering commitment to corporate citizenship,” Gass said. “With the Levi’s brand stronger than ever, Dockers reinvigorated and the Beyond Yoga acquisition expanding the company’s addressable market, I look forward to working alongside Chip and his talented team to realize the incredible potential for the business in the years to come.”
In a statement, Bergh noted that Gass brings more than 25 years of retail and omni-channel experience, along with a "demonstrated track record of innovation, driving transformational ‘big ideas’ not just on products but also business models."
“One of my biggest legacies at LS&Co. will be my successor, passing the baton to someone who will take the company to the next level," he said. " I am thrilled not just about Michelle being my successor, but also about having the chance to work closely together during the transition. I have known Michelle for a decade, and she has many of the qualities we value in our leaders: she is humble, approachable, transparent and driven by purpose and values. She has a track record of building brands and talent."