United for Respect, Private Equity Stakeholder Project, and Americans for Financial Reform today announced that they had sent the below letter to Kohl’s Corporation’s (NYSE: KSS) Board of Directors and Investors. The groups urged the board and investors to consider the track record of debt and bankruptcy at previous retailers acquired by private equity bidders:
An Open Letter to Kohl’s Shareholders
Last month, Kohl’s confirmed that it has received several preliminary acquisition offers, including from two private equity firms – Sycamore Partners and Leonard Green and Partners.
The record of private equity firms in retail, including Kohl’s potential buyers, is marked by bankruptcies and layoffs. More than forty percent of retailers acquired by private equity companies filed for bankruptcy at some point after their acquisition, costing 1.3 million Americans their jobs.
Sycamore Partners and Leonard Green are no exception to this. The two firms have a track record of bankrupting five retailers since 2016, leading to tens of thousands of jobs losses.
- Purchased the department store chain Belk in 2015 and took the century-old company into bankruptcy in 2021.
- Bought footwear company Nine West in 2014, and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2018.
- Acquired a large stake in the clothing chain Aeropostale in 2013, and in 2016 Aeropostale filed for bankruptcy.
Leonard Green & Partners:
- Bought sporting goods retailer Sports Authority in 2016 and took the company into bankruptcy in 2016.
- Acquired clothing retailer J. Crewin 2011 and in 2020, the company filed bankruptcy.
Like other private equity firms, Sycamore Partners and Leonard Green have a history of prioritizing short-term financial returns over the long-term viability of the companies they buy. Sycamore Partners and Leonard Green have loaded debt onto their acquired companies in order to then extract fees and dividends.
- In April 2019, Sycamore Partners drew media attention for taking a $1 billion debt-financed dividend from Staples, which it had acquired just two years prior.
- Leonard Green & Partners and J. Crew’s other private equity owner extracted more than $700 million in management fees and debt-funded dividend payments in the years before they took the retailer into bankruptcy.
In 2018, under the massive debt load taken on by its private equity owners, KKR and Bain Capital, and years of underinvesting in the business and its employees, Toy R Us filed bankruptcy. This had a massive economic impact, costing 33,000 workers their jobs and leaving numerous unpaid creditors. A bankruptcy at Kohls, which has 110,000 employees, three times as many as Toys R US had, could have an even greater impact on workers and communities.
We urge shareholders to reject any proposals that risk repeating the history of the above retailers by saddling Kohls with debt at the expense of reinvesting in the business.
Corporate Accountability Director
United for Respect
Private Equity Stakeholder Project
Private Equity Campaign Manager
Americans for Financial Reform