When, in my youth, I left a job, I imagined that the whole thing fell into a shambling chaos immediately afterward. In reality, things probably got better. So I guess I feel the pain that William Lynch must be feeling the day after his resignation hit the press. Overnight, the market reacted in typical fashion, plunging the share price into a spiral, and, at the time of this writing... Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) was up almost 4%. Ouch.
By comparison, when lululemon athletica CEO Christine Day announced her departure -- which isn't even happening until later in the year -- the stock fell 16% overnight. Lynch's time hasn't been a total wash, but the company will likely be fine without him.
A brief history of William Lynch
Lynch took the CEO role three years ago with much fanfare. Prior to that, the company had been run by founder Leo Riggio's younger brother, Steve Riggio. The younger Riggio had been in the position since 2002, and had helped the company expand during the big-box boom times. Lynch came over from his position as head of Barnes & Noble's website, a role which he had only held for a year at that point.
Before Barnes & Noble, Lynch had been managing the HSN website. His background was firmly planted in digital sales, and his transition to the top of Barnes & Noble signaled the company's move to push digital content. It also coincided with the rise of the e-reader, which ultimately proved to be Lynch's undoing.
After overseeing the rise of the Nook tablet, Lynch watched seemingly helplessly as the tablet failed to gain market share last year and slowly slipped into decline. By the end of the year, the business was looking incredibly weak, and it shouldn't have been a surprise to see it killed off -- or transitioned away -- earlier this year. As the Nook rises and falls, so does its champion.
Barnes & Noble without Lynch
Now that Lynch has left, the company is in a holding pattern while it figures out what comes next. Earlier in the year, Leo Riggio offered to buy the company's nondigital business, taking it private in an attempt to turn things around. With the lead proponent of digital now out the door and the Nook being managed by a third party, Riggio might be in a position to take another shot.
If he doesn't go for it, there are others in the business who would make more sense at the CEO post, now that the business is moving back to focusing on retail. Mitchell Klipper is the current CEO of the company's retail operation, and he has been with the company for decades. Klipper is leading the reimagining of the company's retail spaces, including its store-count reduction.
While Lynch had some successes during his period at the top, the company's failure to make something more out of the Nook meant that he had to go. With a solid secondary team of executives, the company won't have to go far to find a new CEO. I'd be shocked if an external candidate was chosen to fill the position, as the company desperately needs some continuity. For now, as we bid a fond farewell to a man who tried, investors should be eagerly awaiting his replacement.
While Barnes & Noble's future is uncertain, not all retailers are in the same bind. To learn about two companies with especially good prospects, take a look at The Motley Fool's special free report: "The Death of Wal-Mart: The Real Cash Kings Changing the Face of Retail." In it, you'll see how these two cash kings are able to consistently outperform and how they're planning to ride the waves of retail's changing tide. You can access it for free by clicking here.