JCPenney Names Black CEO

By Julissa Catalan

On Monday, retailer JCPenney announced that Marvin Ellison will become the company’s CEO next summer, making him the first Black person to run a national retailer.

Ellison, who is currently Executive Vice President U.S. Stores at Home Depot, will become JCPenney President and CEO-Designee on Nov. 1 before ascending to CEO on Aug. 1, 2015.

“I am honored by this appointment and excited about the opportunity to help lead the continued resurgence of JCPenney,” Ellison said in a statement. “This company has been an important part of the American retail landscape for over one hundred years. Today, it is moving in the right direction and there is an extraordinary passion to win at every level of the organization. As President and, ultimately, CEO, I will be focused on positioning the company to compete in a rapidly changing retail environment for the benefit of our customers, shareholders, suppliers and associates. I am confident that we have the customer proposition, the brand and the talent to make JCPenney successful over the long term.”

JCPenney (No. 48 in the DiversityInc Top 50) has a long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and has made the Top 50 every year since 2010.

Ellison will succeed current CEO Mike Ullman, who came out of retirement in April 2013 for his second tour as CEO after Ron Johnson was fired.In 2012, Johnson’s only full calendar year at the helm of JCPenney, the company’s share price dropped 44 percent.

A recovery process has been under way since Ullman’s return. In the second quarter of 2014, JCPenney posted an earnings per share loss of 56 cents, compared to a loss of $2.66 in the same quarter last year. Meanwhile, sales at stores open at least a year have gone up 6 percent, versus an 11.5 percent decline in the second quarter of 2013.

JCPenney is anticipating this trend will continue under Ellison’s leadership. The company recently unveiled a strategy that is expected to add $2 billion in sales over the next three years.

Ellison will also join JCPenney’s board of directors, which currently has one Latino and two women members (one of whom is Black). Ullman will become Executive Chairman for one year, to help with the transition, once he steps aside as CEO.

Ellison, 49, joins JCPenney after 12 years with Home Depot, the last six in his current position. He began his career at Target, where he spent 15 years in a variety of operational roles.

“Over the course of his career, he has proven his ability to produce results by improving operations, building customer loyalty, and motivating his teams,” Ullman said. “His experience and leadership are exactly what we need to accelerate the progress we have made over the last 18 months.”

Ellison will join the ranks of a very small group of Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. (JCPenney is No. 235 in the 2014 Fortune 500.) Currently, Blacks account for just 1.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEOS, with only six holding that title:

  • Kenneth C. Frazier, Merck & Co. (No. 14 in the DiversityInc Top 50)
  • Roger W. Ferguson Jr., TIAA-CREF (No. 36)
  • Kenneth I. Chenault, American Express
  • Don Thompson, McDonald’s
  • Ursula M. Burns, Xerox Corporation
  • Clarence Otis Jr., Darden Restaurants, Inc.

The Diversity Top 50 has three (6 percent) Black CEOs: Frazier, Ferguson and Bernard Tyson of Kaiser Permanente (No. 3).

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