Industry insiders we spoke to say that Brendan Hoffman, the 42-year-old CEO of Bon-Ton Shops, is an executive rockstar who could actually save JCPenney.
With Ron Johnson out at JCPenney, the company needs a visionary to take over and make it relevant again.
Former CEO Mike Ullman has returned in the interim, and while company reps say that he plans to stay long enough to "get the job done," many industry insiders view him as a temporary placeholder for the next leader, and not the visionary needed to go beyond "getting the job done."
What makes Hoffman a rockstar capable of turning JCPenney around? He spent four years as the CEO of department store Lord & Taylor, and was credited with executing a successful turnaround there.
He left in 2012 because he wanted “wanted a bigger job, leading a public company,” sources told the New York Post at the time. He took a job at Bon-Ton stores, a public chain of mall stores, and has had a successful tenure so far.
"He is young. He has turned around department stores. And I think he would want to make his stamp on the sector much like Terry Lundgren has done at Macy's," Brian Sozzi, CEO and chief equities strategist at Belus Capital, told us.
Before leading Lord & Taylor, Hoffman worked as a vice president at luxury department store Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman.
"Brendan Hoffman is a very smart young guy," said Robin Lewis, the CEO of retail newsletter The Robin Report. "He did a very credible job at Lord & Taylor and under Burt Tansky, he helped Neiman Marcus make great strides in ecommerce."
Insiders say Hoffman has a quality that Johnson lacked: the ability to connect with customers.
Johnson was often criticized for being oblivious to this demographics' needs, evidenced by his abolishing coupons. Sales plunged 32 percent in his first year there.
"There will especially have to be marketing showing men and women over the age of 35 at JCPenney," Sozzi said. "Baby boomers feel as though their JCPenney dissed them."
While at Lord & Taylor, Hoffman is credited with redesigning stores that would appeal to a wider audience. He also implemented new social media and mobile strategies to better communicate with younger customers.
Bon-Ton posted a sales gain in its first year with Hoffman at the helm.
"Hoffman is a smart retailer, and he'd certainly be a calming influence, as a seasoned retail vet," Mark Ellwood , retail expert and the author of the upcoming book "Bargain Fever," told us.
But Huffman might have to prove himself at Bon-Ton before he's ready to work at JCPenney, Lewis said.
"He has a huge challenge at Bon-Ton, and JCPenney would be an even bigger challenge because of its sheer size," Lewis told us.
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