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The Fortune 500 will lose another woman CEO once Kohl’s chief executive Michelle Gass departs for Levi’s

November 10, 2022, 12:52 PM UTC
Michelle Gass, CEO of Kohl’s, at the 2019 Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C.
Sarah Silbiger—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Accenture CEO Julie Sweet offers career advice; Brittney Griner is transferred to a Russian penal colony; and Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass is leaving the Fortune 500 to take over an iconic brand.

Tailored to the job Yesterday, we reported that Michelle Gass is leaving her CEO post at Kohl’s to head to Levi Strauss. That’s a notable move for those who watch the gender makeup of the Fortune 500, which will soon lose another woman. 

Gass has been an executive at Kohl’s since 2013 and took over as chief executive in 2018. During that time, Kohl’s has struggled to grow sales, which have remained flat at around $19 billion. And it’s not for lack of trying: Gass implemented a partnership with Sephora, bringing the beauty shops into Kohl’s stores, and partnered with Amazon to place return desks at Kohl’s locations.

Over the past year, activist investors have circled the beleaguered retailer with takeover bids and pushed for a leadership change. Despite the department store chain’s shortcomings, outgoing Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh believes it has little to do with Gass’s business acumen and more with the state of the mass-market retail industry. “What if she hadn’t been there?” Bergh told my colleague Phil Wahba of the state Kohl’s would be in without Gass. “The question is a legitimate one.”

Michelle Gass, CEO of Kohl’s, at the 2019 Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C.
Sarah Silbiger—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Gass will join Levi’s as president in early 2023 and succeed Bergh as CEO within the next 18 months.

Kohl’s is ranked No. 183 on the Fortune 500. With about $5.7 billion in revenue, compared with Kohl’s $19.1 billion, Levi Strauss does not make the ranking. That means Gass will soon no longer be among female Fortune 500 CEOs, who numbered 44 at the time of the list’s publication in May. Following Gap Inc. CEO Sonia Syngal’s July departure, Gass’s exit thins the ranks of female chiefs in retail, typically the sector that promotes women to the corner office most often.

Still, Levi’s is a business with cultural significance that belies its size. As the future CEO of the denim brand, Gass is ostensibly tasked with crafting and executing a new business strategy while continuing to shepherd the iconic role the brand has played in American culture since its founding in 1853.

Emma Hinchliffe

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