The sudden and unexpected dismissal of Barnes & Noble CEO Ron Boire by the retailer’s board last week shocked publishers, who had no inkling that the head of the country’s largest bricks-and-mortar bookstore chain would be out of a job less than one year after taking the B&N helm. B&N announced the firing late Tuesday afternoon, issuing a brief statement from the company board describing Boire, who had been the head of Sears Canada, as “not a good fit for the organization.”
As a result of Boire’s abrupt departure, Len Riggio, B&N’s founder and chairman, is postponing his retirement. Earlier this year, Riggio announced his intention to step down on September 14, at the company’s annual meeting. Now he will stay on at the company until a replacement for Boire is found.
As news of Boire’s ouster spread, publishers were angry and disappointed that B&N will be searching for a third new leader in less than three years. The head of one large publisher said he was angered to hear the news, pointing out that finding and building a new executive team will set B&N back by six months. “I need them to execute on the ground” during the holidays, this publisher said.
Among the new hires on Boire’s staff are Fred Argir, who joined in July 2015 as chief digital officer, and William Wood, who took over as chief information officer last December. In addition, Jaime Carey, who had been COO for less than a year, was named president of development and the restaurant group in June.
Another high-level publishing executive said he was surprised about the move, since Boire “seemed to have a plan.” Indeed, Boire spent the morning of June 23 laying out the future for B&N in a two-hour investor presentation in which he was joined by other B&N executives. During that meeting, B&N reiterated its intention to continue to downsize its Nook business, upgrade e-commerce site BN.com, and open four new concept stores, the first of which is set to open in October in Eastchester, N.Y. The centerpiece of the new stores will be an expanded café that will serve “American-style fare” plus beer and wine.
Though publishers were glad to hear that B&N is investing in new stores, they are eager for more details about the stores beyond the cafés. The head of one major publisher said he was skeptical about the value of the new stores, wondering how, even if the cafés bring in more customers, B&N can incorporate that concept in its other outlets. During the presentation to investors, executives were vague about their plans to roll out the new concept store format, saying only that they intend to bring it to other stores. They declined to indicate how many concept stores they have in mind.
Publishers were also left to speculate on what led to the abrupt dismissal. Though B&N’s revenue for the fiscal year ended April 2016 fell 3.1% compared to fiscal 2015, and the company had a net loss of $24.4 million, those results were about in line with expectations. The company even touted that the eight stores it closed in fiscal 2016 were the fewest closures in 16 years. Boire, who was also a B&N director, seemed to be in the good graces of the board as recently as late June. According to the company’s proxy statement for fiscal 2016 (issued June 29), Boire had total compensation in the year of just under $8.9 million, a figure that included $1.8 million in bonuses and $6 million in stock options. The proxy also noted that incentives for Boire in fiscal 2017 “will be based on the achievement of corporate performance goals or individual goals.”
B&N provided no time frame for when it might find a successor to Boire. Looking to the future, one publisher said he hoped B&N’s next CEO will be better suited to the company and “have bookstore experience,” as opposed to just “general retailing” experience.