Starbucks Exec Michelle Gass Jumps to Kohl's As Chief Customer Officer

Architect of Seattle's Best Rebrand Takes On Marketing, E-Commerce

By Published on .

Michelle Gass, a longtime Starbucks executive is leaving to join Kohl's in the newly-created role of chief customer officer.

The Ad Age Woman to Watch honoree had just this month been tapped to work with CEO Howard Schultz at the company's Seattle headquarters as part of a senior leadership team. She leaves a 16-year career at Starbucks, where she most recently headed its Europe, Middle East and Africa unit. In contrast, her new role at Kohl's, based in Menomonee Falls, Wisc., will be exclusively domestic -- the third-largest U.S. department store chain operates 1,155 stores in 49 states.

Michelle Gass
Michelle Gass

Ms. Gass, who will report directly to chairman-CEO Kevin Mansell beginning next month, will be responsible for marketing, e-commerce and omnichannel experiences. The retailer has been without a chief marketing officer since Julie Gardner departed late last year. It's unclear whether that role will remain unfilled, given Ms. Gass' responsibilities for marketing.

The retailer has been vocal about its need to revamp its marketing approach, shifting more spending into TV and digital, while focusing on Moms, particularly in the 35- to 54-year age group.

"[Kohl's] has gone outside the retail industry to hire someone with a pristine reputation in operations and strength in branding," said Michael Exstein, an analyst with Credit Suisse. "Previously an executive at Starbucks, where she contributed significantly to the brand's turnaround, Michelle will add an interesting dimension to the [Kohl's] store and may be the candidate needed to restore momentum."

Still, it's worth noting that the last high-profile executive to join an aging department store in need of a turnaround didn't fare all that well. Ron Johnson, the high-flying Apple executive brought in to revamp J.C. Penney went down in flames.

Ms. Gass has been credited with the remake of Starbuck's Seattle's Best Coffee brand and led the introduction of Frappuccino drinks and VIA instant coffee. She also developed the My Starbuck's Rewards loyalty program.

"Michelle offers fresh perspective with a good mix of digital media and advertising experience to help evolve Kohl's growing omnichannel business," Mr. Exstein said.

In 2012, Kohl's spent $356.5 million on measured media in the U.S., according to Kantar Media. That's a slight bump up from the $332.8 million it spent in 2011. According to Ad Age's DataCenter, Kohl's is the 29th-largest advertiser in the U.S., having spent $1.12 billion on total marketing in the U.S. in 2011.

Kohl's said net income for the fourth quarter and full year was down 17% to $378 million and $1 billion, respectively. Same-store sales for the fourth quarter, which included the holiday season, were up 2%. Same-store sales were up 0.3% in 2012.

Most Popular