Share story

Just three weeks after Starbucks shuffled three of its top executives, one has left for the department store chain Kohl’s.

Michelle Gass, like the other two Starbucks executives, had long been considered a possible replacement for Howard Schultz when he again steps down as CEO.

Gass — which rhymes with “floss” — spent the past two years working on a turnaround Starbucks’ troubled Europe, Middle East and Africa region. Before that, she expanded the reach of the chain’s Seattle’s Best Coffee brand, helping usher it into fast-food restaurants such as Subway and Burger King.

Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Kohl’s said Wednesday it has hired Gass in the newly created position of chief customer officer. She will oversee marketing, e-commerce and something Kohl’s calls “the customer’s total omnichannel experience.”

“I am extremely pleased Michelle is joining the Kohl’s leadership team,” Kohl’s CEO Kevin Mansell said in a statement.

Starbucks, through spokesman Zack Hutson, said in a statement: “Michelle has been a passionate Starbucks advocate and leader, and we have valued her many contributions over the years. We wish her and her family the best of luck in their future endeavors.”

Gass could not be reached for comment.

Gass is known at Starbucks’ headquarters for transforming the Frappuccino into Starbucks’ most popular drink, bringing in $2 billion a year, and for helping Schultz with the company’s turnaround plan in 2008.

Starbucks said in early May that Gass, 45, would return to Seattle to lead
“strategic initiatives in support of Starbucks growth strategy.”

Cliff Burrows, who runs Starbucks’ North and South American markets, took over her region. John Culver, who heads Starbucks in Asia, added responsibility for the chain’s grocery-store sales.

Research Analyst Dan Geiman at McAdams Wright Ragen in Seattle said he does not know whether the move was Gass’ choice or Starbucks’.

“It caught me completely by surprise when I saw the news this morning,” Geiman said, adding that “Kohl’s is much more mature and slower growing, a much different story than Starbucks these days.”

Thursday was her last day with the chain. She starts at Kohl’s on June 17.

Another high-profile former Starbucks executive, Christine Day, is now CEO of clothing retailer Lululemon Athletica.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or Twitter @AllisonSeattle.