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Help wanted: These 9 retailers need a CEO

The hunt goes on

Warchi | iStock/360 | Getty Images

Who said good work is hard to come by?

Some major retailers are looking to fill vacancies at the top of their C-suites, after unplanned departures and other shake-ups left them without a permanent successor.

Elaine Hughes, founder and CEO of executive search firm E.A. Hughes, said the problem is far too prevalent in the industry.

"Part of the [CEO's] responsibility is to create succession planning," Hughes said. "They get a little confused, particularly in publicly traded companies. They think the name on the door is theirs and it's not."

Recruiters and other industry experts have said that executive positions are particularly hard to fill in retail and fashion because it's difficult to find candidates with the right mix of merchandising and financial know-how.

Adding to the complexity is the fact that the required skills have dramatically shifted over the past 15 years, when many current executives entered the field, because online shopping has transformed the industry, Hughes said.

But another factor behind retail's more limited talent pool is that many young people with financial knowledge opt to work on Wall Street or in private equity, she said.

"A lot of young people don't necessarily see retail as a burgeoning career," Hughes said.

Click ahead to see a list of nine retailers who are searching for a new CEO.

—By CNBC's Krystina Gustafson.
Posted 21 July 2014

Target

Gregg W. Steinhafel, chairman, president and CEO of Target Corp.
Source: Target

Gregg Steinhafel
Departure date: May 5, 2014
Interim CEO: John Mulligan

After a massive, public data breach and a disappointing debut in Canada, Target in May announced that Gregg Steinhafel would step down as chairman, president and CEO. Under CFO John Mulligan's temporary leadership, the retailer is working to rebuild trust among American shoppers, who have pulled back on spending at the discounter's stores since the Christmastime breach.

After a fourth-quarter drop pushed Target's U.S. sales into negative territory for 2013, it has regained some ground. But the retailer has yet to fully recover, and its domestic same-store sales posted another decline in the first quarter.

In its most recent earnings call, Mulligan said Target is focused on restoring traffic and sales in U.S. stores, making improvements in its Canadian locations and investing in digital technologies.

JC Penney

Ron Johnson
Jin Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Ron Johnson
Departure date: April 8, 2013
Current CEO: Mike Ullman

Penney's controversial CEO Ron Johnson came to the retailer with a reputation for igniting change at Target and Apple, and helping to bring the brands to the forefront of consumers' minds. But a failed attempt at reinventing the discount department store, which included designer-branded shops and a discontinuation of coupons, alienated core shoppers, sending Penney's sales and shares lower.

After about 1½ years on the job, during which time the company's shares plunged more than 50 percent, the two parted ways.

"In hindsight the biggest mistake [was] we went way too fast," Johnson said during a recent interview at Stanford Business School.

J.C. Penney is still in recovery mode, under the leadership of Mike Ullman, who had retired from Penney's CEO post in 2011.

Although the retailer posted its second-consecutive quarter of same-store sales gains in the most recent period, analysts remain cautious because of the easy comparisons it's faced.

Dollar General

Dreiling in 2009 with current CFO David Tehle and then EVP and General Counsel Susan Lanigan, who retired last year.
Brian Killian / Stringer | Getty Images

Rick Dreiling
Expected Departure: May 30, 2015, or upon the appointment of a successor

Rick Dreiling has been at the helm of Dollar General since 2008. Under his leadership the company's sales rose more than 80 percent through 2013, and its store count increased by nearly 40 percent.

Despite a sluggish holiday season that's carried over into 2014 for many retailers, Dollar General's value proposition has helped it maintain positive sales momentum. That's due in part to slow wage growth pushing consumers toward low-cost items, and the dollar segment is stealing share from big boxes such as Wal-Mart for smaller, fill-in trips during the week.

Still, the retailer's exposure to low-income consumers puts the company at risk. Recently, Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon told Reuters that an increase in hiring hasn't led to a boost in its sales, and Family Dollar CEO Howard Levine said he thinks the low-end consumer has "slipped further back."

(Pictured in image: Dreiling, center, in 2009, with current CFO David Tehle and then-Executive Vice President and General Counsel Susan Lanigan, who retired last year.)

American Eagle

Jeff Vespa | WireImage | Getty Images

Robert Hanson
Departure date: Jan. 22, 2014
Interim CEO: Jay Schottenstein

After only two years on the job, American Eagle CEO Robert Hanson exited the teen retailer in January—a move that surprised many Wall Street analysts.

Although the teen sector has struggled against fast-fashion competitors such as H&M and Zara, analysts had commended Hanson for improving the merchandise and performance during his short tenure.

Executive Chairman Jay Schottenstein is acting as interim CEO at American Eagle, which announced in its most recent earnings call that it will close 150 North America stores over the next three years. Although analysts said the move was an incremental positive step, they are looking for the retailer to make more aggressive moves—namely, close even more stores.

Still, they said, the crux of a successful turnaround for American Eagle is more on-trend merchandise. In February, Coach and Abercrombie & Fitch alum Chad Kessler joined the brand as executive vice president, chief of merchandising and design officer.

Bon-Ton Stores

CNBC

Brendan Hoffman
Expected Departure: Feb. 7, 2015

Citing personal reasons, Brendan Hoffman announced that he will exit The Bon-Ton Stores when his contract expires in February. Hoffman joined the department store as CEO in 2012, after a three-year stint as president and CEO of Lord & Taylor.

Experts have speculated that Hoffman could be on the wish list of one of the other retailers shopping for a new CEO. Prior to his role at Lord & Taylor, Hoffman spent six years as the head of Neiman Marcus Direct, where he oversaw the Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman websites.

Bebe

Laura Cavanaugh | Getty Images

Steve Birkhold
Departure date: June 12, 2014
Interim CEO:
Jim Wiggett

After about 1½ years on the job, Steve Birkhold resigned from the specialty women's apparel chain.

The brand reached its peak popularity in the mid-2000s and became synonymous with body-hugging dresses. But it has lost its way with consumers and has struggled to regain its traction. As its sales struggled, falling 8.7 percent to $484.7 million in the year ended July, its shares have also tumbled. Since reaching their all-time high near $31 in 2005, they've fallen about 90 percent.

As Bebe works to reinvent itself, the retailer last month announced it would shutter its affordable 2b bebe concept, after winding down its PH8 activewear division a few years earlier. The retailer also announced plans to lay off about 9 percent of its nonstore employees, in addition to less than 1 percent of its store operations team.

J Brand

Stefanie Keenan | WireImage | Getty Images

Jeff Rudes
Departure date: May 27, 2014
Interim CEO: Andrew Rosen

Jeff Rudes founded J Brand in 2004, and eight years later, Uniqlo parent Fast Retailing acquired a majority stake in the premium denim brand.

But the label, a celebrity favorite, has recently struggled, with Fast Retailing saying earlier this month that it fell short of expectations in the most recent quarter. The company said J Brand was "adversely affected by poor conditions in the U.S. economy" in its latest midyear report.

Andrew Rosen, who has been the head of fashion labels Theory and Helmut Lang, stepped in as interim CEO.

Mulberry

Bruno Guillon and Vogue editor Anna Wintour at London Fashion Week in 2012
Dave M. Benett / Contributor | Getty Images

Bruno Guillon
Departure date: March 20, 2014
Interim executive chairman: Godfrey Davis

After attempting to take luxury handbag maker Mulberry more upmarket, and alienating so-called aspirational shoppers who purchase high-end goods at an affordable price, Bruno Guillon (pictured at left with Vogue's Anna Wintour) and the British brand parted ways earlier this year.

Under Guillon's leadership the company focused on handbags priced higher than £1,000, or about $1,354, overlooking products in the key £500 to £800—or $677 to $1,083—range. The company's shares tumbled 65 percent during his tenure.

Mulberry's former CEO Godfrey Davis has temporarily returned to the company's helm, and has brought with him a renewed focus on a more price-sensitive consumer. In its most recent earnings report, the fashion house said its design team "will ensure that they deliver attractive new product within this key price range while continuing to refresh the collections across our full price spectrum."

American Apparel

Dov Charney
Keith Bedford | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Dov Charney, pending the results of an investigation into alleged misconduct
Interim CEO: John Luttrell

American Apparel last month suspended Dov Charney and announced its intent to terminate the controversial CEO following an investigation into "alleged misconduct." John Luttrell, executive vice president and chief financial officer, has stepped into the role on a temporary basis.

Charney's tenure at American Apparel has been tumultuous, including lawsuits accusing the founder of sexual harassment. Although the brand has become a household name under his leadership, its sales—and shares—have plummeted in recent years, partly due to the rise of fast-fashion retailers.

Its stock was trading near $1 in mid July, after reaching as high as $17.80 in 2007.