Barnes & Noble ousts CEO after less than a year on the job

The sign outside of the Barnes & Noble store is seen in Westminster, Colorado on June 22.
The sign outside of the Barnes & Noble store is seen in Westminster, Colorado on June 22.PHOTO: REUTERS

CHICAGO (BLOOMBERG) - Barnes & Noble ousted chief executive officer Ron Boire after less than a year on the job, saying he wasn't the right person to revamp a bookstore chain struggling to compete with Amazon.com.

Management duties will be handed over to 75-year-old founder Leonard Riggio and other executives while Barnes & Noble searches for a new CEO. As part of the shake-up, Mr Riggio will postpone his retirement as executive chairman, the company said on Tuesday (Aug 16).

The departure brings fresh upheaval to a chain reeling from the rise of e-books and online rivals. Mr Boire, a former Sears Canada Inc. executive who became CEO in September of last year, had sought to revive growth by increasing the shelf space allotted to non-book merchandise like toys and games.

"The board of directors determined that Mr Boire was not a good fit for the organization and that it was in the interest of all parties for him to leave the company," Barnes & Noble said in a statement.

The shares fell 1 per cent to US$13.38 in regular trading in New York, before the news was announced. Barnes & Noble has gained 54 per cent this year, lifted by optimism about a comeback.

Mr Boire has been working to turn the company's stores into centres for customer experiences. That included a plan to open four new concept stores with restaurants attached. He also brought on another former Sears executive, Michael Ladd, as vice president of stores.

"The company will continue to execute on its previously announced strategic initiatives," Barnes & Noble said in Tuesday's statement.

Last year, Barnes & Noble spun off its college bookstore unit as a separate public concern. That left behind a company with 640 stores, an e-commerce site and an e-book unit - but no clear path to regaining its relevance. While sales at its locations have stopped declining, growth prospects are dim.

Amazon, meanwhile, is testing physical bookstores and may ultimately open hundreds of them. That's bringing challenges on multiple fronts.

Mr Boire began Barnes & Noble in 1965 with a single store that sold low-cost college textbooks. He later bought the Barnes & Noble name and its Manhattan flagship store, setting the stage for bigger ambitions. A string of acquisitions, including the purchase of B Dalton, helped turned the company into the biggest US bookstore chain.

But the shift of books and other media online took a toll on the industry. Barnes & Noble shuttered stores, and chief rival Borders Group went bankrupt in 2011.

Mr Riggio had been scheduled to be replaced as chairman by director Paul Guenther at the close of the company's annual meeting on Sept 14. When he announced his planned retirement in April, he said the company was in good hands.

"I have complete confidence in the management team and their ability to take this company to the next level of bookselling," he said at the time. "I have every intention of offering my help and support."