E.A. Hughes Recruits Chief Merchant for J. C. Penney

March 12, 2019 – Retail specialists E.A. Hughes & Co. has placed Michelle Wlazlo as executive vice president and chief merchant of the J. C. Penney Co. She will report directory to CEO Jill Soltau.

Ms. Wlazlobrings 30 years of merchandising and stores experience to J.C. Penney from a variety of respected apparel and accessory retailers. Most recently, she served as senior vice president of apparel and accessories merchandising at Target Corp., where she helped lead the company’s strategy and implementation of a robust merchandising program that included transforming the presentation of 1,400 stores and launching 15 new private brands.

Prior to that, Ms. Wlazlo spent 19 years at GAP Inc. in a variety of roles, most recently as SVP of GAP global merchandising across all brand divisions including women’s, men’s, kids, baby, body and fit. Over the course of nearly two decades, she held multiple merchandising roles of increasing responsibility for Gap, Gap Outlet and Old Navy. She began her career at Saks Fifth Avenue as a department manager before assuming store leadership and buying roles at Bebe Stores.

Headquartered in Plano, TX, J. C. Penney is one of the nation’s largest apparel and home retailers. It has over 860 stores across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Ms. Wlazlo will play an instrumental role in J. C. Penney’s pursuit of operational excellence and sustainable profitable growth, said E.A. Hughes & Company. Among those reporting to Ms. Wlazlo include Jodie Johnson, senior vice president, general merchandise manager for women’s apparel and interim general merchandise manager for home; Angela Swanner, SVP, general merchandise manager for center core, which includes salon and Sephora inside J.C. Penney; Jeff Useforge, SVP, general merchandise manager for men’s and children’s; and Val Harris, SVP, product design and development.

Merchandizing Executives

Chief merchandising officers oversee their company’s buying activities and develop strategies to make the most informed purchasing plans. These C-suite executives make purchasing decisions for their employer, including determining product availability, demand, market trends and pricing. They typically manage a team of purchasing or merchandising staff. Chief merchandising officers also implement merchandising plans.

Functional leaders in the sector, say recruiters, remain in hot demand and in retail environments they are viewed as the second highest position in the company after the CEO. “The right person for the job needs a varied skill set to bring together the numbers and strategic vision,” said Suzanne Piazza, assistant professor at Parsons School of Design at the New School in New York.

Retail Specialists

The E.A. Hughes team of eight is led by Elaine Hughes, who founded the firm in 1991. The boutique executive search firm, headquartered in New York City, has been serving the retail, apparel, footwear, beauty, home and e-commerce sectors, among others.

In January, E.A. Hughes was acquired by New York-based search firm Solomon Page. Lloyd Solomon, a founding partner and managing director of Solomon Page, said that E.A. Hughes’ expertise in C-suite searches complements Solomon Page’s strength in full-time recruitment and freelance hiring, providing Solomon Page with a “broader” approach.


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Ms. Hughes now reports to Mr. Solomon, and joins Solomon Page’s fashion and beauty division, which is headed by managing directors Patty Hoban Scott and Sue Lamoreaux.

“Elaine has influenced the careers of many senior executives in retail and fashion and advocated for women in the industry by example and involvement in many organizations during the past three decades,” said Ms. Lamoreaux.

She added that Ms. Hughes underscored the “synergies accomplished by combining the two firms, and that the deal gives Solomon Page a broader scope of talent acquisition encompassing C-suite executive search, mid-level searches, as well as staff jobs such as sales associates.”

Ms. Hughes said inadequate search is a big factor behind the industry’s high rate turnover at the C-suite level. “Many search firms neglect conducting the proper deep dive into the candidate’s functional talents, experience and E.Q. to determine whether he or she is a good fit for the organization doing the recruiting and its culture,” she said. “No one really assesses it all.”

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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