When Christopher & Banks said last December that it hired Joel Waller to a one year contract as president, was the women's apparel retailer hiring an adviser to CEO Larry Barenbaum or his eventual replacement?

Technically speaking, it was the latter. Last week, Christopher & Banks said Barenbaum resigned and would be temporarily replaced by Waller.

To a cynic, the timing suggests a pre-determined coup d'etat. But Waller insisted to the Star Tribune that he had nothing to do with Barenbaum's exit. He took the one year gig partly because Barenbaum, a friend, asked him to.

Furthermore, Waller said he had no interest in the CEO position beyond the interim period.

Fair enough. But then again, Barenbaum was also an interim CEO before the board, which he chaired, hired him to replace Lorna Nagler in 2010.

Here's another intriguing coincidence. In December, SEC documents show that hedge fund Southpoint Capital Advisors significantly boosted its stake in Christopher & Banks, acquired a whopping 1.16 million shares at a time when investors were mostly trimming their positions.

Southpoint's move, its most aggressive bet yet on Christopher & Banks, came less than three months before Barenbaum's departure. With 2.05 million shares, Southpoint is now Christopher & Banks' fourth largest investor.

In any case, Barenbaum left the company with some money in his pocket. The now ex-CEO will receive $250,000, or about half his annual salary, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Judging by his record, Barenbaum is lucky to get anything. His tenure as CEO has been an unmitigated disaster.

In fiscal 2011, the retailer posted a $22.2 million loss, its worst annual loss ever. A high profile attempt to reengineer the company's clothing lines fell flat with consumers.

In January, the retailer closed about 100 stores and laid off 150 full-time employees and 660 part-time workers.

So far this year, Christopher & Banks has lost $39.3 million compared to a loss of $5.4 million during the same period a year ago.


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