Consider the qualifications needed to be the next president of Bed Bath & Beyond, the troubled big box home products retailer that is now in the process of searching for its fifth CEO (interim included) in five years.
He or she must have strong management skills, preferably honed in retailing. This person must understand operations, merchandising and finance. They preferably should have a similar position on their resumes. And, perhaps most importantly, they must impart a high degree of credibility to calm down the swirling uncertainties that are tainting the company in the eyes of investors, banks, employees and even shoppers.
In replacing Mark Tritton, who was essentially fired last month, Bed Bath should—if you will — look to the tried-and-true pattern often employed by major league baseball teams. After bringing in a highly touted rookie manager to shake up the team and bring in new ideas…and it doesn’t go well, a baseball organization will move in the opposite direction and hire a grizzled, old veteran to run the team. He will be highly respected, perhaps a few years out of the game with a good pedigree and well known in the business.
That’s what BBB may be likely to do and, in no particular order, here are some informed suggestions for who they should be talking to. Note: I have not contacted any of these people on their availability, much less their interest so this is purely a speculative exercise and should be taken as such. And if any of these selections turn out to actually happen, no finder’s fee or commission is required…although an extra 20%-off coupon would be a nice way to say thanks.
Hubert Joly: The man who turned around Best Buy was an unlikely retail CEO and would be even more so for Bed Bath given that he is now teaching at Harvard Business School and has said he is done running companies. That said, his track record would say he would be an amazing choice for the retailer.
Mike Ullman: The two-time CEO at JCPenney has been in retirement since leaving the retailer in 2015. At age 75, he has some mileage on his resume and some critics will include him on the blame for JCP’s current predicament but he would bring that level of respect and stability that are his trademarks.
Norman Axelrod: The former CEO of dearly-departed Linens’n Things certainly understands the big box retail space and has remained active as chairman of the board of Floor & Décor, a position he would need to leave should this ever transpire. But does he really want to run a retail company again, after largely being a consultant for private equity and board member for the past decade-plus?
Terry Lundgren: The man who created the modern Macy’s retired in 2018 as executive chairman and is largely involved in the academic world these days. But at age 70, he’s relatively young in retail years and he understands how to fix a broken business, albeit largely in the department store space. And maybe he has something left to prove?
Jeff Wilke: The former number two at Amazon retired (maybe after not getting the top job?) in 2021 but he’s only in his mid-50s and, hey, who could finally get BBB’s e-commerce business on track better than a guy who was at Amazon for 21 years? He says he’s retired and probably doesn’t need the money but an intriguing option.
A few wild cards: Current interim CEO and board member Sue Gove has run big retailers over her career (Golfsmith, Zale) and could be a candidate although they may want an outsider. Some younger CEOs out there could also be interesting choices: Ashley Buchanan of Michaels, who was previously at Walmart heading up operations and merchandising; Mindy Grossman, who has just stepped down as head of WW (Weight Watchers) and is the former president of HSN; and Michael O’Sullivan, now running Burlington after coming over from Ross Stores. There’s even former CEO Steve Temares and his COO Art Stark, who certainly know the BBB landscape, even with all the recent changes. Stranger things have happened. By the way, we’re guessing Ron Johnson is not on anybody’s short list.
Of course, the BBB board could go in an entirely different direction and bring in another rookie or someone from outside retailing with strong turnaround skills. There’s certainly no shortage of candidates out there…even if the job is going to be a tough one.
But whoever the board picks, they need to do it quickly. Too many retailers in similar situations have seemed to have no sense of urgency and too much time elapsed while the business continued to decline. That is the last thing Bed Bath & Beyond can afford right now.
The corner office is open in Union, NJ right now and the stakes have never been higher.