B&N Hires and Fires New CEO

B&N's CEO has left the building.

In less than an hour yesterday, Doug McMillion, the president and CEO of Wal-Mart, was hired and then fired as CEO of Barnes & Noble.

The surprising sequence of events began before the stock market opened, when B&N issued a press release announcing McMillion's appointment, itself a stunning shift for the lifelong Wal-Mart employee and considered by many a coup for B&N. The company praised McMillion's general retail experience as well as his success battling Amazon and said that he had major plans to reinvigorate B&N. His focus, the company said, would be expanding on the handful of new concept stores launched last year--McMillion's revamped revamped stores would be "newer concept stores," the company said.

Only 20 minutes after the first press release was issued, however, a second release announced that McMillion had been let go. The company described McMillion as "not a good fit" and said that "it is in the best interests of all parties for him to leave--or, in fact, not even start." B&N said it would honor McMillion's contract, which was a multi-year agreement with sizable salary guarantees. One rumor had it that B&N execs didn't approve of the future CEO's plans to add teams of greeters at the front doors of all B&Ns or have hourly specials announced loudly in-store.

By lunchtime, B&N had organized an emergency conference call with stock market analysts during which company founder and executive chairman Len Riggio, who has been acting CEO since Ron Boire was fired in August 2016 after 11 months on the job, did most of the talking. (According to the first release of the day, Riggio had been planning to retire, again, on May 1, which was to be McMillion's official first day as CEO.)

"To my major regret, once again we just haven't found the right person," Riggio said. "I blame myself first and foremost for not recognizing problems sooner in the process." Still, he emphasized that B&N would survive--and even thrive--despite the regular changes in the executive ranks. "Books are our nook, I mean niche," he said. "They're everlasting, a lot like me."

He added that since McMillion's departure, B&N had already begun revamping the newer concept store plans, creating what he called a "newest concept" program. These new stores will, he said, be distinguished by the return of "an oldie but goodie": easy chairs, which in the early days of book superstores had attracted so many people. "Loved those chairs," Riggio said. "Lines went out the doors of people waiting for them to free up. There's been nothing like that since then to drive traffic. Plus they separate us from our competition. After all, you can't climb into the Internets and sit around in anything doing nothing all day." --John Mutter

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