Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass will leave the department store retailer to take on the newly created position of President, LS&Co., reporting to Levi Strauss & Co. President and CEO Chip Bergh. Beginning Jan. 2, 2023, Gass will lead the Levi’s brand and the company’s global digital and commercial operations, at which time she also is expected to join the company’s board of directors. The move sets in motion a succession plan for Gass to succeed Bergh as CEO within the next 18 months.
“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 of the LS&Co. Board of Directors in a statement.
Gass joined Kohl’s in 2013 as Chief Merchandising and Customer Officer and took the CEO job in May 2018. During her time there she led the retailer’s transformation strategy, driving a significant reinvention effort for the retailer’s more than 1,100 stores while growing its digital business to more than $6 billion. She spearheaded strategic innovations including the introduction of Amazon returns and the retailer’s long-term strategic partnership with Sephora, which has expanded to 600 Sephora at Kohl’s shops.
Prior to that, in her nearly 17 years at Starbucks Gass held numerous leadership positions and was instrumental in product innovations, including expanding the Frappuccino blended beverage brand, and launching the Starbucks loyalty program.
Gass is leaving Kohl’s at a challenging time for the company and for department store retail overall. Kohl’s has been an acquisition target since at least early 2022, when the company rejected an offer from Sycamore Partners and Acacia Research and implemented a “poison pill” shareholder rights plan to prevent hostile takeovers. As recently as September, activist investors were seeking the removal of Gass and Kohl’s Chairman Peter Boneparth.
Levi’s announced its strategy for propelling the company toward revenues of $9 to $10 billion by 2027 at its June 2022 Investor Day, including plans to open 400 new stores along with elevating and strengthening the company’s core brands: Signature by Levi Strauss & Co., Denizen, Dockers and Beyond Yoga.
“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,” said Bergh in a statement. “She has a track record of building brands and talent. Michelle also brings more than 25 years of retail and omnichannel experience, along with a demonstrated track record of innovation, driving transformational ‘big ideas’ not just on products but also business models.”
“I am thrilled to join Levi Strauss & Co., with its iconic brands, incredible team and unwavering commitment to corporate citizenship,” said Gass in a statement. “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.”