Get Used to Sue Gove at BBB…for a While Anyway

It looks like Sue Gove is going to be in the corner office at Bed Bath & Beyond for a while…at least.

A Reuters report this morning– as yet unconfirmed by the struggling retailer – says Gove, the interim CEO of the company who took over when it fired Mark Tritton in late June, will stay in the job “for at least 12 months.” The story cites “a source familiar with the matter.” Two other sources in the Reuters story say Bed Bath “will not pick a new leader until well in 2023.”

If this all turns out to be true, than it will be Gove leading the attempt to keep BBB afloat and out of bankruptcy court. It will be no easy task.

Among the shopping basket full of problems it is dealing with: double digit declines in its sales, a cash-flow squeeze only temporarily resolved with new high-risk financing that buys it some time, inventory problems of too much of the bad stuff and not enough of the good stuff and management spooked by the suicide death of its CFO last month possibly connected to a shareholder lawsuit alleging insider trading and stock price manipulation.

So, who is Sue Gove and how did she get in this less-than-enviable position? According to her biography on the company’s website she became an independent director of BBB in May, 2019, as part of a group of four added to the board in a settlement with three outside investor groups that were pressuring it to make changes in its management. That group — Legion Partners, Macellum Advisors and Ancora Advisors, which at the time reportedly owned about 5.2% of company stock – ultimately succeeded in ousting the entire board and senior managers group, resulting in the hiring of former Target executive Mark Tritton…who Gove now succeeds, at least for a while.

Gove, 61, according to the company has spent “more than 30 years in the retail industry serving a variety of senior financial, operating and strategic roles that included President and Chief Executive Officer of Golfsmith International Holdings and Chief Operating Officer of Zale Corporation.” She is also listed as the president of Excelsior Advisors, described as a “retail consulting and advisory firm founded in August 2014.”

Since joining the board, she has served two years as a member of the audit committee and three years as a member of the nominating and corporate governance committee. In March, she was named chair of the board’s strategy committee before being named interim CEO with the release of the company’s disastrous first quarter results and subsequent departure of Tritton and the chief merchant.

Since then other senior managers have also left, with some of their positions being eliminated. CFO Gustavo Arnal died by suicide in early September just a week or so after a lawsuit was filed by investors claiming he was involved in a stock manipulation fraud. The company has said it does not believe the claim is with merit.

Gove, who has said she is leading a “back to basics” strategy that will return BBB to its former market position, is joined on the board by two other holdovers from the outside investor push: Jeffrey Kirwan and Joshua Schechter. This would seem to indicate that these shareholders are still deeply involved in the overall direction of Bed Bath.

Curiously, Gove has been involved with a number of companies that have had financial difficulties that led to bankruptcy filings. She spent 26 years with Zale, the jewelry retailer, and according to her LinkedIn profile was COO or CFO when it filed chapter 11 in 1992. She was then with Golfsmith, a sporting goods retailer, for five years, including 19 months as CEO. Just two years after she left, it filed for bankruptcy and was subsequently bought by Dick’s Sporting Goods. She has also served on the board of several other companies, including Conn’s and Iconix, that have had financial troubles. It is unclear what Excelsior Advisors’ involvement with retail has been since its 2014 founding or who its clients are. 

As coincidental as Gove’s retail track record might be, there’s no disputing that it gives her vast experience dealing with companies in deep financial distress. Clearly, BBB investors, employees, suppliers and loyal customers are all hoping for a better outcome this time around.

And not coincidentally, by the way, the reports that Gove will continue to run the company confirms a prediction made right here on August 29 as to what to expect from the company. In making five educated guesses on what BBB would do next, wrote “it’s quite possible that Gove…will be named acting CEO rather than interim, signifying that she is going to be the lead dog for the short-term and that the search for a new president is not a top priority.”

Just saying…

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