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Frustrated Ackman wants new JCP CEO: Sources

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J.C. Penney (JCP) is searching for a new CEO, sources told CNBC Thursday, as the struggling department store seeks to placate one of its biggest investors and stabilize a stock price that has been in free-fall.

In April, Penney abruptly dismissed former Apple (AAPL) executive Ron Johnson, and brought on Mike Ullman to replace him on an interim basis. Yet in a letter to Penney's board obtained by CNBC, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman - one of the company's biggest investors - voiced frustration that the process to fill the job permanently has not advanced quickly enough. He wants a new chief installed within the next 30-45 days, the letter said.

Saying that he was "very concerned" about the company's future, the hedge fund manager pressed the board for a clear succession plan - expressing concern that the process had taken as long as it has given J.C. Penney's widening problems.

"Considering the scale of J.C. Penney, the seriousness of the issues it faces, and the complexity of its business, there are only a handful of executives with sufficient talent and experience to take on the CEO role," Ackman wrote in his letter. "We need a CEO with extensive, ideallydepartment-store retail experience, strong operational skills, and a strong public company track record."

According to Ackman's missive, former CEO Allen Questrom has conditionally agreed to return as the company's chairman.

In an interview with CNBC, however, Questrom said that he would only consider a return to the embattled retailer under the right conditions - adding that he would not come back under hostile circumstances. The search for a new CEO should not take more than 30 to 45 days, as there are probably not more than five people who'd be qualified for the job, Questrom said. He also said he was strongly in favor of CEO Ullman at the time he was re-hired in April.

The company has "such a great history, you wouldn't want to give up until it's dead," Questrom told CNBC.

Meanwhile, Wall Street has increasingly soured on the beleaguered retailer. Macquarie retail analyst Liz Dunn said Penney was in dire need of "a big turnaround" after a series of failed attempts to lure back wayward customers. Dunn added that the company was running out of time to get it right.

The company's stock (JCP) jumped as much as 8 percent on the news.

--Reporting by CNBC's Scott Wapner and Becky Quick; writing by Javier E. David

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