J.C. Penney, now 118 years old, has, or had, a CEO who made it barely two years in the job. No one should view that as strange. The close-to-death retailer has run through senior management at a furious pace in the hope of a turnaround that will not come.
Jill Soltau, the departing CEO, came from Jo-Ann Stores, after stops at Shopko, Sears and Kohl’s. Her work history produced a resume as strong as any other that the retailer could find, based on its financial condition. Soltau received a $6 million payment when she signed on. It represented hazard pay in advance. J.C. Penney went bankrupt, and mall owners Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management have taken over ownership. Cynics say the move was because they were about to lose J.C. Penney as an anchor tenant in many malls. The problem with the argument is that, soon, J.C. Penney may be in a position where it cannot pay rent again.
J.C. Penney currently operates about 700 stores, a small footprint for a national retailer. Industry experts point out that many of the stores remain old and dingy. Shoppers may not shop at J.C. Penney because they would rather spend their money at a brighter, more modern store owned by, perhaps, Target.
J.C. Penney’s position among e-commerce retailers cannot match leaders Amazon, Walmart and Target. The American retail customer has scrambled online, and the pace has quickened because of the pandemic.
J.C. Penney has not replaced Soltau. Who can imagine why any retail executive would step into the job? J.C. Penney started to disappear years ago and may need to continue to cut its way to profitability next year, a strategy that rarely works.