Corporate culture is work in progress at Kohl’s

A few months ago, a BizTimes cover story examined, “Accessible leadership: Enlightened executives respond to their stakeholders.”

In the story, several top executives shared their strategic reasons for being accessible to their employees, their customers, the media and the community. Those bright executives included Rich Meeusen of Badger Meter Inc.; Katherine Gehl, then with Gehl Foods Inc.; Jeff Yabuki of Fiserv Inc.; Frank Krejci of Strattec Security Corp.; Paul Grangaard of Allen Edmonds Corp.; Michael Koss of Koss Corp.; and Christine Specht-Palmert of Cousins Submarines Inc.

Those executives were chosen to share their strategic visions of accessibility in the story because we knew they would.

Then there are companies on the other end of that accessibility spectrum. Take Kohl’s Corp. It’s difficult to imagine a publicly traded company that could be as insular and insulated as the Menomonee Falls-based retailer. Over the years, I have heard numerous complaints from Kohl’s employees about the company’s corporate culture.

However, Kohl’s shook up its C-suite recently by announcing it had created a new position of chief merchandising and customer officer and had begun a search to fill a newly created chief operating officer position.

The Kohl’s C-suite needed a good shaking up – not so much in terms of performance, but from the standpoints of public and internal relations.

The company has hired Michelle Gass as chief merchandising and customer officer. In this new capacity, Gass has assumed oversight of all Kohl’s merchandising, planning and allocation, and product development functions. She reports to Kevin Mansell, Kohl’s chairman, chief executive officer and president. Gass retains direct responsibility for the retailer’s overall customer engagement strategy, including the company’s marketing, public relations and social media efforts.

Gass joined the Kohl’s management team in 2013 after more than 22 years of retail, marketing and general management experience, including 16 years with Starbucks Corp. She also held executive positions with Ann Inc. and Procter & Gamble.

In light of Gass’ new responsibilities, Mansell has assumed direct oversight of the company’s digital and e-commerce strategies and operations.

Kohl’s also has commenced an external search for the chief operating officer, a new principal officer position. Along with Gass, the chief operating officer is expected to be a potential candidate to succeed Mansell upon his eventual retirement.

In addition, Kohl’s announced that Wesley McDonald and Richard Schepp have been promoted to principal officer positions. McDonald will assume the newly created principal officer position of chief financial officer. Schepp will assume the newly created principal officer position of chief administrative officer.

BizTimes requested an interview with Gass after the company announced her appointment. We wanted to talk about the C-suite changes and the potential to change the company’s corporate culture.

Our interview request was turned down, but the company said it would “revisit” the request at a later date.

At least they returned the e-mail this time. It’s a start.

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