Management Turnover as Change Agent

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Zale Jewelers Trys to Shine With New CEO

Zale Corporation ZLC (NYSE), the long troubled North American specialty jewelry retailer, announced the resignation of its current CEO, Betsy Burton along with the appointment of her replacement Neal Goldberg, who had previously served as President of the troubled children's retailer, The Children's Place Retail Stores. The management change comes in the wake of increased activist (hedge funds - Breeden Capital, Citadel LP, SAC all of whom made 13D filings) involvement in the company and a continuing decline in the company's performance despite a real change in corporate strategy.

Burton had only been CEO since February 2007 and served as acting CEO since February 2006. She has been on the company's board since 2003. Just as her replacement Neal Goldberg, Burton had an extensive retailing background. At the time she had been appointed as permanent CEO, Richard C. Marcus who was the Chairman of the Board said,
"Betsy has done a superb job running the Company since February. Under her leadership, we are moving forward with a customer-centric strategy that leverages our fundamental strengths to regain market share, improve profitability and create value for shareholders. Betsy is an experienced executive with an outstanding record of leadership and a deep knowledge of Zale. Along with the strong management team we have put in place in recent months, Zale now has the right leadership to realize our long-term growth potential."
Burton went on to shift the focus of the firm back to its more original retail strategy. According to the Dallas Morning News, Burton while interim CEO was quoted saying,
...the company believes the plan adopted by Leonard and former Zale CEO Mary Forte, who quit January 30, to market to higher-income customers and try to get product direct from foreign suppliers had not worked, and the company would go back to targeting average-income Americans.
Since Marcus's announcement on the appointment of Burton, a new Chairman, John B. Lowe Jr., has taken over and numerous management changes have occurred and yet, the company has continued to under-perform. In today's announcement, the new Chairman, John B. Lowe Jr., said Goldberg,
"has a unique combination of retail experience, leadership and team-building skills, and talent to move the company forward, building on the progress that has already been achieved."
Different Chairman same sentiments as when Burton was appointed. While Goldberg appears to have the right background and experience, he is coming from another retailer that recently has been under the gun (check the blog). The real question for me is what do the activist shareholders, who hold over 18% of the stock, plan to do? Zale has been floundering for a long time despite continuing efforts to turn itself around.

Stay tuned and make sure to watch both Goldberg and the outside activist investors (Breeden, Citadel and SAC).

For more see:

Dallas Morning News
Diamond Intelligence Briefs
Houston Chronicle
Gerson Lehrman Group 13D Tracker

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