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Kohl's CEO Gass to leave for top job at Levi Strauss

By Uday Sampath Kumar

(Reuters) -Kohl's Corp boss Michelle Gass is leaving to take the helm at Levi Strauss & Co amid renewed calls from activist investors for management changes at the struggling department store chain.

Kohl's said it would install Tom Kingsbury, a director nominated by hedge funds Macellum Advisors and Ancora Holdings, as interim chief from Dec. 2, sending its shares up 10% on Tuesday. The company also forecast third-quarter earnings above Wall Street estimates.

Gass came under renewed pressure from Macellum Advisors and Ancora after Kohl's decided in July to remain independent after exploring a sale.

Ancora said it was "pleased" with Kingsbury's appointment and that it was the right time for Kohl's to pivot to new leadership. Macellum did not respond to a request for comment.

Gass, a former Starbucks executive who took the helm at Kohl's in 2018, will become president at Levi's early next year before taking over from long-time CEO Chip Bergh within 18 months.

Bergh has led Levi's for the last 11 years and was involved in the company's return to public markets in 2019.

At Levi's, Gass faces the challenge of helping the denim maker navigate out of an inflationary environment that has caused a slump in discretionary spending and hit earnings across the retail space.

"I expect Gass' focus at Levi's will be on bringing the company closer to consumers through better distribution and direct selling, particularly online," said Neil Saunders, managing director at research firm GlobalData.

Gass is no stranger in finding ways to pull in new retail customers, having helped drive more traffic to Kohl's stores through tie-ups with Sephora and Amazon.com Inc.

Kohl's on Tuesday forecast third-quarter earnings of 82 cents per share, compared with analysts' estimates of 64 cents, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

(Reporting by Uday Sampath, Deborah Sophia and Mehr Bedi in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta, Sriraj Kalluvila and Maju Samuel)