By Brecken Branstrator
Jill Soltau, a 30-year retail veteran, will officially become J.C. Penney’s CEO on Oct. 15.
Plano, Texas—J.C. Penney Co. Inc. has appointed 30-year retail veteran Jill Soltau as CEO, effective Oct. 15.

She takes over for Marvin Ellison, who left the company in May to run Lowe’s, and is the retailer’s first female CEO.

Soltau most recently served as president and CEO of Jo-Ann Stores Inc., the nation’s largest fabric and crafts retailer with more than 850 locations in 49 states. The Hudson, Ohio-based company operates Jo-Ann Fabrics and Jo-Ann Etc.

As a veteran retail merchant and former general merchandise manager, she was brought to Jo-Ann Stores to reinvigorate the brand and bolster its market position through a consumer‐centric approach that integrated a number of new tech features into its business.  

Under her leadership, the company has undergone a revitalization, expanded digital and omnichannel capabilities, and forged strategic partnerships that would allow it to build meaningful relationships with its customers, J.C. Penney said in the news release announcing Soltau’s hire.

The Plano, Texas-based department store chain is hoping she can do the same for it.

J.C. Penney continues to struggle and results of its turnaround plan so far seem tepid. In the second quarter ended Aug. 4, comps were basically flat and total net sales fell nearly 8 percent year-over-year to $2.76 billion.

The company also just lost Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Davis, who resigned effective Oct. 1 to pursue another opportunity. Jerry Murray, senior vice president of finance, has stepped into the role of interim CFO.

Prior to joining Jo-Ann Stores, Soltau spent eight years at retail chain Shopko as executive vice president and chief marketing officer and then president.

Before Shopko, Soltau held senior-level positions in merchandising, planning and private brand management at Sears and Kohl’s.

She began her career with department store Carson Pirie Scott (Carson’s), which was later acquired by Saks Inc. and then Bon-Ton Holdings Inc.

“Jill stood out from the start among an incredibly strong slate of candidates,” said Paul J. Brown, J.C. Penney board director and chairman of the search committee. “As we looked for the right person to lead this iconic company, we wanted someone with rich apparel and merchandising experience, and found Jill to be an ideal fit. Not only is she an established CEO and former chief merchant, her depth of experience in product development, marketing, e‐commerce and store operations have been an important basis for the turnaround work she spearheaded at prior companies.”

J.C. Penney ranked No. 9 on National Jeweler’s $100 Million Supersellers list in the 2017 State of the Majors report with an estimated $753 million in watch and jewelry sales in 2016, putting it just behind and ahead of Sears.

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