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Activist Hedge Fund Is Pushing Kohl’s to Sell

Kohl's retail storefront | Source: Shutterstock
Kohl’s operates more than 1,100 stores across the United States and a has a retail partnership with LVMH’s beauty retailer Sephora. (Shutterstock)

An activist hedge fund chaired by former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is pushing US department store operator Kohl’s to sell itself, according to people familiar with the matter.

Kohl’s rejected acquisition offer was worth as much as $64 per share in 2022, when it also came under pressure from several activist shareholders to explore a sale.

It held on for a bid worth more than $70 per share that never came, and has since struggled to make its stores more profitable and grow its e-commerce business. Its shares are now hovering at around $26.

Vision One Management Partners, a fund co-founded by Harper and former Carl Icahn protégé Courtney Mather, has built a stake in Kohl’s and expressed concerns to the company about its future, the sources said.

Vision One has asked Kohl’s to launch a sale process and also give it board representation, the sources added, requesting anonymity because the matter is confidential.

Kohl’s was not available for comment and Vision One did not respond to requests for comment.

The development makes Kohl’s the second US department store operator to come under investor pressure to sell itself in as many months. Last month, Macy’s rejected a $5.8 billion offer to be taken private by investors Arkhouse Management and Brigade Capital Management, on the grounds it was too cheap and may not have the necessary financing.

Kohl’s operates more than 1,100 stores across the United States and a has a retail partnership with LVMH’s beauty retailer Sephora. Its sales have been steadily declining as it struggles to attract more shoppers.

Ancora Holdings, Macellum Capital Management and Legion Partners Asset Management are among the other activist hedge funds that have pushed for changes at Kohl’s.

The company is led by former off-price chain Burlington Stores CEO Tom Kingsbury, who joined the Kohl’s board in 2021 with backing from Macellum and Ancora. He replaced Michelle Gass, who left in 2022 to join jeans maker Levi Strauss & Co, as permanent CEO in 2023.

Vision One, located in Miami, Florida, and launched in 2022, invests primarily in mid-sized American companies in the industrial and consumer sectors, according to a regulatory filing. It oversaw roughly $128 million in assets as of May 2023.

An economist by training, Harper spent most of his career in politics. He co-founded the modern Conservative Party of Canada and won three successive elections in 2006, 2008, and 2011. He also owns his own consulting firm.

Mather, formerly a portfolio manager for billionaire activist investor Icahn, is a director at Caesars Entertainment and previously held board positions at Herc Holdings and CVR Energy.

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss; editing by David Evans

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