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J.C. Penney new CEO takes on a turnaround challenge

Hobson on retail "bloodbath"
Hobson on retail "bloodbath" 03:25

NEW YORK - J.C. Penney is counting on a former CEO of the nation's largest fabric and crafts chain to inject some energy into the struggling department store chain.

The retailer on Tuesday named Jill Soltau, who had been the president and CEO of Jo-Ann Stores since March 2015, to be its next CEO, effective mid-October.

Soltau, a 30-year retail veteran, succeeds Marvin Ellison, who left this past summer to take the top job at home improvement chain Lowe's after less than four years at Penny's helm.

Ellison's departure raised speculation that he wasn't particularly optimistic about Penney's prospects. The Plano, Texas, chain is still struggling despite a stronger economy that has lifted sales at its peers Macy's and Kohl's. Nor has it benefited much from ailing Sears Holdings' closing stores.

Under Ellison, Penney brought back major appliances like washing machines, added year-round toy shops and improved its e-commerce operations. It is aiming to rely less on clothing as shoppers shift more of their spending toward experiences like spa treatments and products like beauty creams.

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Despite making some inroads, the turnaround has been far from complete. In August, Penney reported a bigger-than-expected loss in its fiscal second quarter, with a key sales metric falling well short of Wall Street's estimate. The company cut its full-year forecast again, sending its shares plunging.

Other senior executives have followed Ellison out the door, including most recently Penney's chief financial officer.

Under Soltau, Jo-Ann's expanded its online operations and revitalized its brands. Before that job, Soltau spent eight years at Shopko, most recently as president. She also has held several senior-level positions at Kohl's and Sears.

Jo-Ann Stores said in a news release Tuesday that Soltau had resigned, effective immediately.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Penny board member Paul J. Brown said the company had been looking for someone with strong clothing and merchandising experience.

Soltau's "depth of experience in product development, marketing, e-commerce and store operations have been an important basis for the turnaround work she spearheaded at prior companies," he said.

Soltau's new job at Penney means women CEOs in the Fortune 500 now number 25, according to, though that's still below the 32 from mid-2017.

Penny's stock rose 10 percent to $1.72 in after-hours trading on Tuesday. It had fallen more than 8 percent in regular-session trading Tuesday, putting it down 51 percent since the beginning of the year.

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