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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 26, 2019 4 weeks ago

Retailer has busy summer, including moving forward on CEO

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Bonnie Brooks replaced Shelley Broader on an interim basis in April.

It’s been a busy summer at Fort Myers-based women’s retailer Chico’s FAS.

On a business side, private equity firm Sycamore Partners, based partially on the Fort Myers company's well-documented struggles with declining sales, has made three buyout offers since April. The Chico’s board has squashed all the offers and has said, in separate statements, that each offer substantially undervalued the company. (The most recent Sycamore offer, in late June, was for $3 per share — even lower than the offer in May, for $3.50 per share.)

Unrelated to those offers, or stock prices and sales data, the company had a major scare July 18, when security personnel received an anonymous call regarding the threat of an active shooter in the area around its Fort Myers corporate headquarters facility. The sprawling campus is on Metro Parkway, near Page Field airport.  

Although no shooter or situation was identified, the company went into lockdown mode while police swarmed the campus. “The security and safety of our employees is of paramount importance to Chico's FAS,” the company said in a statement hours after the threat. “Local law enforcement and other emergency personnel were immediately notified and are presently on site. As a precaution and consistent with existing security protocols and policies, all employees were notified of the situation in real-time.”

Going back to the business news, also on July 18, the company went forward with a significant step in its ongoing reinvention: It removed the interim tag and named Bonnie Brooks the president and CEO. Brooks, who replaced Shelley Broader on an interim basis in April, will also remain a board member, according to a statement.   

Brooks has had a long career in retail, including a stint as vice chair, president and CEO of Hudson’s Bay Co., with brands that include Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Saks Off 5th.

In addition to Brooks, responsibility for the company's apparel brands has been consolidated under one leader, Molly Langenstein. A 30-year retail industry veteran, Langenstein joins Chico's FAS after nearly three decades with Macy's, where she was most recently general business manager, Ready-to-Wear, the release states. Langenstein was named president of the Apparel Group, effective Aug. 1. She will oversee all business activities for the Chico's and White House Black Market brands.

The company's intimate brands, Soma and TellTale, will continue to be led by Mary van Praag, president, Intimates Group, who joined Chico’s in September 2017. Chico's Brand President Karen McKibbin, meanwhile, tendered her resignation earlier this week to pursue other opportunities, the release states.

The Brooks appointment, the release states, part of several other leadership changes, is “aligned to drive a simpler, nimbler organization focused on the company's priorities of accelerating sustainable sales growth.”

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