J.C. Penney Turns to Food Executive to Win Back Shoppers

Customers arrive at a J.C. Penney store, Tuesday, April 9, 2013 in New York. J.C. Penney is hoping its former CEO can revive the retailer after a risky turnaround strategy backfired and led to massive losses and steep sales declines. The company's board of directors ousted CEO Ron Johnson after only 17 months on the job. The department store chain said that it has rehired Johnson's predecessor, Mike Ullman. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Mark Lennihan/AP
By ANNE D'INNOCENZIO

NEW YORK -- J.C. Penney has hired an executive from the food world to reconnect with its shoppers.

The beleaguered department store Monday named Kraft Foods (KRFT) executive Debra Berman as senior vice president of marketing to help revitalize the struggling brand.

Penney is trying to win back customers who fled during a transformation plan spearheaded by chain's former CEO, Ron Johnson, that backfired and led to massive losses and sales drops.

Berman, who has worked for Kraft since 2009, served as vice president, marketing strategy and directed global brand strategy for all Kraft-owned brands.

J.C. Penney Co. (JCP), which is based in Plano, Texas, said Berman joins the company's executive board and will report directly to CEO Mike Ullman III. The appointment took effect Friday.

Berman fills the void left by Michael Francis, who left the company in June 2012 after being hired by Johnson eight months earlier. Francis, who was president and marketing chief, was responsible for marketing a new pricing plan created by Johnson. After Francis left, Johnson himself oversaw marketing, until he was fired in April.


Berman's appointment is the latest management change under Ullman, who returned to Penney's helm in April when the board fired Johnson after only 17 months on the job. Ullman has been assembling a new management team to help reverse Penney's fortunes. He's also working to stabilize the business by bringing back basic merchandise and more frequent sales that were eliminated by Johnson in a failed bid to attract younger, hipper customers.

However, analysts say that while traffic is improving as a result of stepped-up discounts, there has been no evidence of a turnaround yet as the company heads into the bulk of the critical back-to-school shopping.

Penney amassed nearly a billion dollars in losses and its revenue dropped 25 percent for the fiscal year that ended Feb. 2 in the first year of the failed transformation strategy. Losses and sales drops continued into the first quarter, as the shadow of Johnson's legacy remained. Penney is expected to report second-quarter results later this month.


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