Commentary

Helena Foulkes Departs CVS To Lead Hudson's Bay Department Stores

Helena Foulkes, leader of CVS Health's 9,700 retail stores, 20 distribution centers and e-commerce efforts — and a driving force behind the chain's decision to stop selling tobacco products — has been named CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor-owner Hudson’s Bay Co. following Gerald Storch’s abrupt departure in October.

“Although Ms. Foulkes doesn’t have fashion experience, that didn’t deter Hudson’s Bay, because 'she knows operations, she knows about brand building,’ said a person familiar with the situation,” report Suzanne Kapner, Joann S. Lublin and Sharon Terlep for the Wall Street Journal.

“She said she was drawn to Hudson’s Bay because the company has been pursuing creative deals, including a partnership to sell Lord & Taylor merchandise on Walmart Inc.’s website,” they add. “‘I grew up with these iconic banners and felt a real connection to them,’ she said.”

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But looking in the other direction, “the future of retail will be defined by companies that think creatively about where the consumer and the world are headed,” Foulkes says in the statement announcing her appointment.

Foulkes, 53, joined CVS in 1992 after stints at Goldman, Sachs and Tiffany. She has been EVP of CVS Health and president of CVS Pharmacy since January 2014. She is a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Business School. She takes over at HBC on Feb. 19.

“We were looking for a proven transformational leader, someone who understands consolidating businesses,” Richard Baker, executive chairman of HBC who has been acting CEO, tells the New York Post’s Lisa Fickenscher. “CVS is the best example of retail consolidation in the world and this is the woman who led it.”

“‘We took our time,’ Baker said, adding that he spent a lot of time with her, including at her Providence, R.I., home. ‘We really shared common values and common culture.’”

Back in 2014, Foulkes announced the launch of CVS’s #onegoodreason social media campaign that encourages people to share their stories about quitting smoking. She was also heavily involved with CVS’s plans to offer next-day prescription delivery service in all of its outlets by the end of this year. 

Also, “in January, Foulkes and the CVS team made a major decision to stop touching up its beauty images by 2020. Until then, the retailer will let customers know when images used for ads and social media have been altered,” writes Katie Abel for Footwear News.

“As a woman, mother and president of a retail business whose customers predominantly are women, I realize we have a responsibility to think about the messages we send to the customers we reach each day,” she said in a release at the time.  "The connection between the propagation of unrealistic body images and negative health effects, especially in girls and young women, has been established.”

But Foulkes has “struggled to improve the so-called front of store business at CVS,” reports Fortune’s Phil Wahba. “Same-store sales of general merchandise at CVS have slipped for six quarters running amid intense competition and the struggle to get customers to come into stores to pick up prescriptions rather than use the drive through or have them delivered. Still, on her watch, CVS padded its lead as the biggest filler of drug prescriptions in the U.S. Foulkes is ranked by Fortune as the 12th among the most powerful women in business,” Wahba writes.

Brampton, Canada-based Hudson Bay, which traces it roots to 1670, has  more than 480 stores and over 66,000 employees working within Hudson's Bay, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Gilt, Saks OFF 5TH, Galeria Kaufhof, the largest department store group in Germany, and Belgium's only department store group, Galeria INNO. Getting to 2070 — or even 2020 — is the challenge (as Bon-Ton Stores’s filing for bankruptcy yesterday underscores, as the New York Times's Michael Corkery points out).

“The retailer agreed in October to sell its iconic Lord & Taylor building in Manhattan and unload a minority share to a private equity firm to reduce debt. With pessimism on the department-store industry weighing on Hudson’s Bay shares, activist Land & Buildings Investment Management has pressed for a go-private transaction, arguing the company is undervalued and should look for ways to unlock value,” Bloomberg’s Sandrine Rastello and Jonathan Roeder write.

“In December, Hudson’s Bay reported a larger-than-expected third-quarter loss as an operations overhaul that included 2,000 job cuts undermined its bid to boost e-commerce. Shares fell as much as 1.9% to C$10.15 on Monday. They’ve lost more than a third of their value in the past two years.”

But they’ve clearly gained someone who can go the distance.

1 comment about "Helena Foulkes Departs CVS To Lead Hudson's Bay Department Stores".
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  1. Michael Margolies from Michael Margolies Photography & Design, February 6, 2018 at 4:55 p.m.

    I'm always rooting for Hudson Bay to succeed having many friends and professional contacts there across its various companies. However, as an observer they have got to stop turning over leadership at various levels and retooling repeatedly. 

    It seems every couple of months for the last 3-4 years they have a new plan, and new set of leaders, and are reorganizing various departments. This is confusing for the employees and demoralizing but worse has presented an inconsistent message and ever changing brand. Consumers may not be able to put a finger on it but they are responsive to the sense that something is wrong and they can't seem to find their way. 

    I hope with this new round of top leadership they will steady the coarse and find their purpose for the next 400 or so years.

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