After just two years, Mary Beth West is leaving the department store sector and returning to food. Ms. West, who has served as exec VP-chief customer and marketing officer at JC Penney since June of 2015, is joining the Hershey Co. as chief growth officer. Before her time as the top marketer at Plano, Texas-based JC Penney, she served as chief marketing officer at Mondelez International Inc.
A search is underway for Ms. West's successor—she will remain with the brand until March 31. Until that time, day-to-day marketing responsibilities will be overseen by Kirk Waidelich, senior VP-sales promotion and marketing, and Sheeba Philip, VP-marketing strategy and communications.
"Mary Beth played an instrumental role in the company's return to profitability and was a key asset to the leadership team," read a company statement. "However, she has decided to relocate to the Northeast where she and her family will be closer to relatives and she can pursue a new opportunity with one of the world's most iconic food brands. JC Penney is grateful for her dedication and service, and we wish her well in all future endeavors."
Ms. West made marketing strides at JC Penney, tapping McGarryBowen as agency of record soon after joining the struggling retail chain, which has some 1,000 locations, and identifying the core JC Penney shopper as a modern American mom. She helped to introduce the brand's current campaign and tagline, "Get Your Penney's Worth" last spring; the retailer recently unveiled this spring's iteration of the campaign, which continues with the penny-saving mantra but also uses the line "Priced to Buy, Guaranteed to Love." JC Penney spent $291.1 million on measured media in the U.S. last year, according to Kantar Media. The company has also worked with Narrative to amplify some of its social media messages in the past.
Though the marketing efforts have helped to return the chain to profitability, Chief Executive Marvin Ellison recently said on a conference call that the brand may not have communicated its sales and coupons enough to customers in the crucial fourth quarter. During that holiday period, same-store sales fell 0.7%, while net sales dropped 0.9% to $3.96 billion. Earlier this year, Mr. Ellison said the company plans to close 14% of its store fleet, or 140 locations. Yet there has been progress on the brand's turnaround. S&P Ratings upgraded the chain's corporate credit rating to B+ from B and removed the chain from its CreditWatch Negative list on Monday, for example.
Ms. West's tenure at JC Penney is in keeping with her predecessor's. In 2015, she replaced Debra Berman, who had been in the role for less than two years.
Ms. West's new role at Hershey will begin May 1, according to a release sent out by the confectionary brand on Monday. She will lead the company's growth strategy in areas including insights and analytics, strategy, marketing excellence functions, innovation, research and development, mergers and acquisitions and "the Hershey experience," Hershey said. Ms. West will report to Hershey CEO Michele Buck, who became CEO on March 1. In a statement, Ms. Buck said Ms. West "is considered one of the best food executives and marketers in the industry. Her deep experience in growing some of the world's best-known consumer brands and demonstrated ability to transform consumer engagement will be a tremendous asset to Hershey as we chart our growth agenda."
At Hershey, Ms. West's role will include some functions that previously were overseen by CMO Peter Horst, who left Hershey in 2016 for personal reasons.
Ms. West is relocating to the Hershey, Pa., area with her husband and four children. Hershey said last month that it had identified an external candidate for the chief growth officer position who it expected would join the company this spring.