Activist extraordinaire Bill Ackman is getting some support from other concerned investors regarding the need for a management shuffle at beleaguered retail firm J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP), one of his more troubled picks lately. Ackman spoke out a few days ago demanding the company appoint a permanent CEO and get back on track, before its too late. Now, Perry Capital is getting behind Pershing Square in requesting the swiftest possible action to relieve interim CEO Mike Ullman and reappoint former CEO Allen Questrom as chairman of the board. According to Ackman, J.C. Penney is "flying blind," but is this renewed fight evidence of an inflection point for the department store chain?
You have to hand it to Ackman and his resilience and ultimate faith in J.C. Penney. Pershing Square owns 18% of the company, and has weathered tremendous short-term capital appreciation loss as the company struggled to find its feet and failed to leverage the skills of former Apple retail exec Ron Johnson. There is a laundry list of investing quotes that apply to the situation, referencing anything from the strength of stomach to sit by a company getting ripped to shreds in the media and on the exchange, to catching the sharpest falling knife in retail. It should be clear to investors that Ackman holds on to his original thesis regarding the company, as he has yet to sell a single share.
Still, what can the store do to turn around its falling sales and vanishing customer base -- a base that was offended by Ron Johnson's vision of the new JCP and confused as to where their store went?
For both Ackman and Richard Perry, whose firm just bought a 7.3% stake in the company, management is of an immediate concern.
Ackman mentioned in his public letter to J.C. Penney's board that the company is in dire need of a retailing expert, and that the truly qualified options are so slim that the board should be considering no more than a handful, five or six, executives. Furthermore, the few number of leaders cut out for this juggernaut of a turnaround means the decision should be soon, very soon.
Perry is behind veteran Kenneth Hicks -- the head of Foot Locker and the man who brought that company from the brink of death to being a successful business once more. Before Foot Locker, Hicks was the president and chief merchandising officer at JCP. His intimate knowledge of the company makes him one of very few people who could immediately step into the role and effect change, all with an insider's knowledge of the company and its customers -- an element Ron Johnson lacked, by no fault of his own.
There is little doubt that this is a dangerous situation for Ackman, J.C. Penney, and the less-influential remaining shareholders -- and one with no clear, immediate solution. The stock is incredibly cheap, but as a prospective investor, now is simply not the time.