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Christopher & Banks Corp.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Christopher & Banks names a new CEO

  • Article by: DEE DePASS
  • Star Tribune
  • October 29, 2012 - 5:08 PM

Struggling women's clothier Christopher & Banks Corp. announced Monday that it has tapped the former CEO of Payless ShoeSource to become its new leader.

LuAnn Via will become Christopher & Banks CEO and president on Nov. 26. She will also become the seventh CEO in as many years for the Plymouth-based women's clothing retailer.

Via succeeds president and interim CEO Joel Waller, who will stay with the company as a consultant until June in an effort to ensure a smooth leadership transition.

Waller, 72, a Wet Seal CEO and a 20-year CEO at Wilsons Leather, stepped into the interim CEO role at C&B in February after long-term board member, chairman and interim CEO Larry Barenbaum abruptly resigned.

Barenbaum had replaced Lorna Nagler, who held the CEO job from August 2007 to October 2010.

With Via on board, the company hopes to gain leadership traction as it continues its transformation.

The retailer has struggled in recent years with getting the right pricing and merchandise to attract its core audience of 40- to 60-year-old women. The company is starting to see evidence of a turnaround, but has a long way to go.

The stock traded at $16 a share in 2008, and at $11 a share two years later. It fell to $1.03 a share in June, and has since risen to $3.27 a share.

In an interview Monday, CFO Peter Michielutti said people are excited about Via. "I think she is going to do great," he said.

C&B Chairman Paul Snyder said in a statement that Via has the leadership qualities needed "as we continue to execute on the turnaround strategy started by Joel Waller. Ms. Via's extensive merchandise and product development experience in multiple retail channels in addition to her strong executive and personal qualities were key factors in the board's decision to hire her."

In a statement, Via said, "I look forward to leveraging the company's brand strengths to deliver improved sales and earnings results for the company's shareholders."

In her new job, Via will oversee 640 stores in 44 states. Of those, 388 operate as Christopher & Banks stores, while another 172 operate as CJ Banks plus-sized stores. About 55 stores are dual stores, and there are 25 outlet stores in addition to the online retail operations, officials said.

Combined, the businesses generated $461 million in sales last year.

At Payless Shoes, Via served as CEO from 2008 until earlier this month. There, she oversaw a 4,000-store enterprise that generated $2.4 billion in annual sales. Payless has 26,000 employees in 30 countries.

Before joining Payless, Via served in various executive and merchandising roles at Lane Bryant owner Charming Shoppes Inc.; Sears Holding Co.; Saks Inc.; and Federated Department Stores.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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