Christopher & Banks Extends CEO’s Employment

The company said that it has entered into an amended employment agreement with CEO and President Joel Waller, who has agreed to continue in those roles until March 31.

Christopher & Banks Corporation appears to need more time to select its next permanent chief executive.

The Plymouth-based women’s clothing retailer revealed in a Tuesday filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that it has it has entered into an amended employment agreement with CEO and President Joel Waller under which he’s agreed to continue in those roles until March 31 “unless a successor . . . has been elected by the company’s board of directors . . .”

Waller was hired in December 2011 to serve as president for a one-year term; he then took on the additional role of CEO after former chief executive Larry Barenbaum abruptly resigned in February. Christopher & Banks said at the time that Waller would serve as CEO until a new chief executive was found, but the company didn’t reveal how quickly it expected that to occur.

According to the SEC filing, Waller received a $150,000 cash bonus on Tuesday for agreeing to the new employment contract. Additionally, if he’s still serving as CEO and president on December 14, the day following his one-year anniversary with Christopher & Banks, the company will review and adjust his $500,000 annual salary.

Waller also agreed to serve as a consultant to the company, through June 30, 2013, following the appointment of a permanent CEO—a role for which he’ll be paid $30,000 monthly.

Christopher & Banks, which has struggled in recent years, has begun to turn itself around. The company’s same-store sales—sales at stores open for at least a year and a key measure of a retailer’s health—climbed 5.5 percent during the second quarter, which ended July 28. Meanwhile, its net loss during the quarter totaled $2.2 million, or 6 cents per share, representing a significant improvement from its loss of $6.3 million, or 18 cents per share, during the same period last year.

Waller said in late August that the company’s second-quarter performance demonstrates that “our strategic initiatives are taking hold.”

In mid-July, Christopher & Banks was blasted by minority investor and would-be buyer Aria Partners, a Boston-based investment management firm that in early July extended an unsolicited, $64 million buyout offer. Christopher & Banks rejected the bid, and Aria Partner Edward Latessa responded with a sharply worded letter of ridicule to Christopher & Banks’ non-executive Chairman Paul Snyder. In it, he said the board’s credibility in terms of turning the company around was “worthless based on its record thus far.”

Christopher & Banks has said that its turnaround strategy involves reducing the number of styles offered this fall and “rebalancing” its assortment; lowering prices and reducing the variety of prices; improving inventory flow by reducing the number of major floor sets by half; and developing a promotional strategy that features more targeted, unique promotions and fewer storewide events.

Christopher & Banks is among Minnesota’s 50 largest public companies based on revenue, which totaled $412.8 million in the fiscal year that ended in January.

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