Beleaguered retail chain Wilsons the Leather Experts Inc. said Friday that CEO Michael Searles will resign April 3. His departure comes as the Brooklyn Park-based specialty retailer is in the process of closing more than half of its mall stores and trying to resuscitate its stock, which is trading at about 25 cents a share.
Searles' departure, officially for personal and professional reasons, was not completely unexpected. He was knocked off his perch as chairman of the board in August and replaced by Michael Sweeney, managing partner of Minneapolis private equity firm Goldner Hawn, which sank $35 million into Wilsons in June.
The company expects to name a new CEO within the next few months.
By the end of May, Wilsons will close as many as 160 of its mall stores. The 100 remaining stores will be turned into accessories stores called Studio, as the company abandons its name and its once-strong reputation as a seller of leather coats.
In the past year, Wilsons' stock has lost 90 percent of its value. In its heyday, in 2001, the leather retailer was trading at $23.50. The stock was at $4.27 when Searles was hired.
In its fiscal year that ended Feb. 2, the company lost $77.5 million, or $2.46 a share, which included store-closing charges and financing adjustments. Without those charges, the loss would have been $57.8 million, or $1.47 a share.
Searles, 58, came to the company as CEO in December 2004. He earned about $1.5 million in 2006 in total compensation, according to the most recent filings. His termination agreement stipulates that he could receive severance equal to his annual salary, which was $608,077 in 2006, plus 18 months coverage of health and life insurance.
Wilsons said it will retain Searles as a consultant through October.