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The switch marks the exit of Questrom, one of the giants in retailing, from the industry. “I will be departing from retail,” Questrom, 64, said Wednesday when the change was announced. “I am going to retire, though my wife says, ‘You are always retiring.’ But I don’t plan to go [back] to work.”
Questrom’s exit opens the way for one of retailing’s more seasoned executives, with Ullman having held top jobs at Macy’s, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and the DFS Group primarily through the Nineties.
Penney’s, said Ullman, “has been through a remarkable turnaround. My challenge will be to get up to speed, and define the next level for Penney’s. I see that as exciting. There is still a lot of evolution to occur.”
But Ullman’s appointment leaves some doubt over the future of Vanessa Castagna, chairman and ceo of Penney’s stores, catalogue and Internet, and considered the retailer’s chief merchant. It’s possible that Castagna, who also holds the title of executive vice president of Penney’s, will decide to leave the company, having been passed up for the top slot. She also has an escape clause in her contract, permitting her to leave without the usual noncompete restrictions that most retailers impose, according to a Penney’s executive.
That would leave Penney’s in a hole. Castagna is credited as being a strong second in command, having effectively implemented critical strategies, including centralizing the buying, and store layout and merchandise presentation changes, as well as more aggressive advertising and price promoting that were instigated by Questrom.
“There’s no decision on Vanessa,” Questrom said, though he added that she was disappointed at not being the final candidate. Questrom said in May he would not renew his contract and at that time said he’d recommend that Castagna succeed him.
Since Questrom assumed the chairmanship and ceo posts at Penney’s in September 2000, the skilled turnaround specialist has orchestrated a complete revamping of the retailer, from selling its floundering Eckerd drugstore business to strengthening cash flow, reducing debt and restoring a fashion image. Wall Street hailed the Eckerd sale as a plus, because it enabled Penney’s to reposition its capital structure, which included share repurchases of up to $3 billion, and billions more in debt reductions.