Activist investors are circling Kohl’s. Can CEO Michelle Gass fend them off?

January 28, 2022, 2:05 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Honduras swears in its first female president, Amy Schneider’s Jeopardy! run comes to an end, and activist investors are circling Kohl’s. Have a restful weekend.

– Sale of the season. Four years ago, CEO Michelle Gass started executing her strategy for the retailer Kohl’s. For the past two weeks, activist investors have made clear that they’re unhappy with that plan’s results as they circle Kohl’s with takeover offers.

First there was Engine Capital’s proposal to sell the company or spin off its e-commerce business. Then Macellum Advisors urged a board shakeup or a sale. Next, Starboard Value offered $9 billion to buy the department store chain. And finally, Sycamore upped the offer by $1 per share—$65 to Starboard’s $64.

This isn’t the first time Gass has faced off with activists. But this time around, the sale talk is especially popular with investors, who sent the stock up 30%, back to where it was when Gass first took over the business. (For another reminder of what that time was like, read this 2018 Fortune profile of Gass, written as she took the reins.)

But the takeover offers aren’t good news for the CEO, as this Bloomberg story outlines.

Gass is known as an innovator—a longtime Starbucks exec, she’s credited with inventing the Frappuccino and its caramel drizzle. The task of turning around a flagging budget department store chain, however, was a tough one. Gass has implemented plenty of changes, from a deal with Amazon allowing online orders to be returned in store to the coup of securing a coveted Sephora retail partnership.

Kohl’s is a $16-billion-in-revenue business, ranked No. 195 in the Fortune 500. That makes Gass, the first woman to run Kohl’s, one of the 41 women who led Fortune 500 businesses at the time of 2021’s list. Women who run retail businesses tend to make up a significant share of female Fortune 500 leaders, but their ranks have thinned in recent years with the departure of Mary Dillon from Ulta Beauty and the collapse of J.C. Penney, which was led by Jill Soltau before it filed for bankruptcy. Kohl’s isn’t in as dire straits as mall-based J.C. Penney—but whether it will stick around as an independent, woman-led retailer is now in question.

Emma Hinchliffe

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


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