U.S. Markets closed

Penney's returning CEO looks to old rolodex

NEW YORK (AP) -- The return of the old guard at J.C. Penney have sent shares higher this week, even with major U.S. indexes suffering one of the worst downturns this year.

J.C. Penney brought back former CEO Mike Ullman to lead the company last week and he has already rehired one of his former executives forced out under Ron Johnson.

Johnson, the former Apple Inc. executive, was ousted himself last week after a disastrous 17 months at the helm.

The familiar faces have received a positive response on Wall Street, which has driven the stock up nearly 4 percent this week even as the S&P 500 slumped 3 percent.

At least one analyst that follows the company sees a precedent for Ullman's second act.

Citi's Deborah Weinswig said that bringing back old-hands worked successfully for BJ's Wholesale Club in 2007, when Herb Zarkin as put back in the CEO's chair.

Zarkin rehired three key members of his former team to run merchandising, marketing and store operations. Over the next 12 months, revenue at comparable stores rose 3.7 percent, compared with the modest 1.2 percent increase in the prior-year period.

One of Ullman's first actions was to rehire Ken Mangone as executive vice president of product development, design and sourcing. He had left in December 2012. Nick Wooster, fashion blogger and a former executive at luxury stores like Neiman Marcus who had taken on his role, is now out. Penney also announced this week that two other Johnson hires — Michael Kramer, chief operating officer, and Ken Walker, chief talent officer —are now gone.

Penney's shares are still down 65 percent since early last year but investors appear to embrace an old familiarity.

Weinswig points out that Ullman had a deep bench that he could exploit.

"As of now, it's a two-man band, but there are other former JCP executives available who could come to work for their former band leader," Weinswig said.

Weinswig believes the merchandising, planning and allocation and store organization remains in good shape.

Liz Sweney, Penney's chief merchandising officer and the head merchants in women's, accessories, men's and home were all with Penney during Ullman's previous tenure. But she says the areas of marketing, finance, human resources and operations are lacking talent.

"We further suspect that there could be additional vacancies at lower levels of the organization, which JCP will need to fill," Weinswig wrote. She says of utmost importance is finding a president or chief operating officer to serve as Ullman's right hand man.

J.C. Penney, based in Plano, Texas, is in a cash crunch and is exploring ways to bolster its cash reserves.

Johnson had planned to reinvent the company by getting rid of coupons, bringing in new brands and replacing racks of clothing with mini boutiques.

But the pace at which Penney's loyal shoppers abandoned the store exceeded any influx of consumers that it had hoped to attract with the new strategy.

Shares edged down 16 cents to $15 in early trading Friday, but continue to rebound from multi-year lows, reached last week.