Chairman of the board and chief executive officer, May Department Stores Company
Education: City College of New York, BA, 1971.
Family: Married Connie (maiden name unknown); children: two.
Career: Gimbel's East, 1971–1973, assistant buyer; 1973–1976, buyer; Bamberger's Department Store, 1976–1984, buyer, then held various merchandising positions; 1984–1988, senior vice president and general merchandise manager; Macy's Northeast, 1988–1989, group senior vice president; Macy's South/Bullock's, 1989–1990, group senior vice president; May Department Stores Company, 1990–1992, president and CEO of G. Fox division; 1992–1996, president and CEO of Filene's division; 1996–1997, vice chairman; 1997–1998, executive vice chairman; 1998–, president, CEO and chairman.
Awards: Named one of America's Most Powerful People, Forbes , 2001.
Address: 611 Olive Street, St. Louis, Missouri 63101; http://www2.mayco.com/common/index.jsp.
■ Eugene Kahn, a longtime veteran of the retailing industry, rose through the ranks of several department store chains to head the May Department Stores Company. May was a multimillion-dollar retail chain that owned more than four hundred department stores as well as over 180 David's Bridal wedding stores in the early 2000s. The company's divisions included Lord & Taylor, Hecht's, Filene's, and Strawbridge's. Kahn succeeded the retail pioneer David Farrell as chairman and CEO of May in the late 1990s as the company was beginning to lose its leadership of the retail industry. Kahn launched an aggressive campaign designed to reach new customers and restore the company to its former market share. He was regarded within the industry as an intelligent and hard-working retailer who was not afraid to take risks.
Kahn began his retailing career in 1971 as an assistant buyer at Gimbel's Department Store in New York. He then moved to Bamberger's (formerly a division of Macy's) in New Jersey, where he eventually rose to the positions of senior vice president and general merchandise manager. In 1988 he became group senior vice president for the consolidated Macy's Northeast division and, a year later, group senior vice president for Macy's South/Bullock's.
He joined the May Department Stores Company in 1990 as president and CEO of the G. Fox department store division in Hartford, Connecticut and went on to become president and CEO of Filene's, the company's Boston-based division. Kahn then helped oversee the merger between G. Fox and Filene's in the early 1990s. He was named vice chairman of May, elected to its board of directors, and transferred to its St. Louis headquarters in 1996. He leveraged his years of retail experience into higher positions within the company. In 1997 he was promoted to executive vice chairman and, in 1998, became the company's president and CEO.
After Kahn became the company's CEO, he had major tasks ahead of him—and big shoes to fill. His predecessor, David Farrell, had guided the most recent restructuring of the May department stores. Many colleagues thought, however, that Kahn had the right qualities for the job. "He loves products, he loves the selling floor, and [he] is passionate about the whole retail process," said one retailer who had worked with Kahn at Macy's ( Women's Wear Daily , January 15, 1998).
As Kahn stepped into Farrell's job, May was losing market share to Internet companies as well as to other bricks-and-mortar retailers. Whereas Farrell had tended to stick to tried-and-true methods, however, Kahn was more willing to take risks. "He's encouraged people to take chances and be different," said Ralph Pucci, owner of a visual design house and mannequin maker, shortly after Kahn took the reins ( Women's Wear Daily , January 15, 1998). "He could bring a freshness to the organization from a visual, store-design point of view." An example of Kahn's creative thinking was his use of a unique set of mannequins for Filene's junior department when he was running the division. The mannequins represented a radical departure for the conservative company.
Store redesign was a major part of Kahn's $3.6 billion strategy. He planned to open one hundred new department stores and remodel or expand another hundred stores. In addition to increasing the size of the May chains, he wanted to give all stores a fresh look and atmosphere to make shopping easier and more intuitive for customers. The changes were aimed at Kahn's new target age group, the so-called "Generation Y," or young people between the ages of 16 and 24. "May is vigorously pursuing the younger customer," Kahn stated ( Women's Wear Daily , May 29, 2001). He tried to entice this age group with new styles, more exciting presentations of merchandise, and popular music played in the stores. At the same time that Kahn was courting younger shoppers, however, he also worked to strengthen May's established private-label brands to retain the company's loyal base of older "baby boomer" customers.
Two other areas in which Kahn wanted to increase the company's market share were the gift and formal wear businesses. Kahn sought to increase May's gift registry, which accounted for the bulk of the company's online presence. To enhance May's holdings in the formal wear business, Kahn acquired David's Bridal in 2000, followed by Priscilla of Boston and After Hours Formalwear. Soon after acquiring David's Bridal, Kahn announced plans to double the number of stores in the chain.
May's chairman, Jerome Loeb, retired in 2001, and Kahn stepped up to fill his vacant slot. Although the company had done well in the late 1990s, sales began to slip in 2001. The company also had legal problems. Kahn had launched a line of clothing under the label "Be" to appeal to young women. Another company, Bebe Stores, claimed that May was using its brand name and filed a lawsuit against the company for trademark infringement. Although the American economy as a whole had slumped in late 2001, many analysts blamed Kahn for declining sales. They compared him unfavorably with Farrell, who had been known for running a very tight ship. There was even talk in 2003 that Kahn would be replaced.
As a cost-cutting measure, Kahn reduced four of May's divisions to two in 2002, shedding some 1,600 jobs in the process. The company saved about $60 million annually from the consolidation, but the measure was controversial. The following year, the company laid off another 1,500 workers in Utah.
Although Kahn was committed to his company, he did not forget its surrounding community. He was a leader in supporting the city of St. Louis by revitalizing its downtown area. "We can and do change our worlds by changing our neighborhoods," he said ( Association of Fundraising Professionals ). He also assisted needy families through company fund-raising and community service initiatives. Kahn was a member of the board of trustees of Washington University in St. Louis and the board of the Mary Institute/Country Day School, which his children had attended. He also served on the board of directors of Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
See also entries on R. H. Macy & Co. and May Department Stores Company in International Directory of Company Histories .
Association of Fundraising Professionals, "May Department Stores Company Named Outstanding Corporation," http://www.afpnet.org/tier3_cd.cfm?folder_id=1846&content_item_id=6307 .
Cole, Heather, "Poor Sales Could Spell Doom for May's CEO Kahn," St. Louis Business Journal , February 14, 2003.
Moin, David, "May Co.'s Farrell to Retire April 30; Kahn, Loeb Move Up," Women's Wear Daily , January 15, 1998, pp. 1–3.
Wright, Hassell Bradley, "May's Private Push: More Focused Fashion, Double David's Chain," Women's Wear Daily , May 29, 2001, p. 1.