The chief executive of struggling German department store chain Karstadt has stepped down after less than six months in the job, in the latest blow for one of Germany’s best-known retail brands.
Eva-Lotta Sjoestedt, a former Ikea executive who joined the high street chain in February, said on Monday that she was leaving her position after realising her plans to turn around the department stores’ fortunes were no longer possible.
Karstadt was rescued from insolvency in 2010 by billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen, who has invested in revamping the stores, but also announced controversial job cuts that have sparked union anger in Germany.
The company no longer makes its figures public. But a report in German business daily Handelsblatt in May said that Karstadt had a net loss of €34m in the first half of the 2013/14 fiscal year, only slightly less than a €35m loss in the same period the previous year.
Ms Sjoestedt had spent the bulk of her short tenure as chief executive travelling around the country to visit the chain’s 83 stores with the aim of giving more autonomy to local managers.
Hinting at a lack of support from Berggruen Holdings, Ms Sjoestedt said that she had initially decided to take on what she knew would be a very difficult task of making Karstadt profitable again with the full support of Berggruen Holdings for her strategy and investment plans.
But she said after the experience of recent months, and with “full knowledge of the economic fundamentals”, her plans would no longer be possible.
Karstadt said it regretted Ms Sjoestedt’s decision “very much”, but accepted it. The company has appointed its chief finance officer Miguel Müllenbach and its chief human resources officer Kai-Uwe Weitz to run the chain on an interim basis.
Retail analysts have long speculated that Karstadt will eventually be merged with its main rival, Kaufhof, which is currently owned by Metro, Germany’s largest retail group. Metro has sought buyers for Kaufhof in the past but has failed to secure a buyer – a problem analysts say Karstadt also faces.
Karstadt has also suffered a series of strikes organised by the unions over its plans to cut jobs.
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