Who Was Larry Montgomery?

R. Lawrence (Larry) Montgomery was a retail executive and philanthropist who was best known for his role as chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of Kohl's. Based out of Wisconsin, the department store has both an impressive brick-and-mortar presence throughout the United States and a robust online presence. Montgomery was known for helping to turn Kohl's from a primarily Midwestern retail store into a national chain. He retired in 2010 and died in 2019

Key Takeaways

  • R. Lawrence (Larry) Montgomery was a former chair and CEO of Kohl’s.
  • Montgomery joined Kohl’s in 1988 and became CEO in 1999.
  • He helped turn Kohl's from a primarily Midwestern retailer into a national chain.
  • Montgomery is also credited with changing the Kohl's shopping experience by giving stores a facelift and cutting deals with major national brands like Nike and Vanity Fair.
  • Larry Montgomery retired in 2010 and died in 2019.
Larry Montgomery

Investopedia / Alison Czinkota

Early Life and Education

R. Lawrence (Larry) Montgomery was born on Oct. 28, 1948, in Michigan. His parents both worked—his father was a buyer at a mailbox- and a vent-making company and his mother was an associate at a store.

Montgomery played football as a linebacker during high school and attended Ferris State University, which is based in Big Rapids, Michigan. He graduated with an undergraduate degree in mathematics.

After graduating, Montgomery began his career in retail. He worked at Donaldson's, a department store in Minneapolis, as a men's clothing buyer, and at other retail stores in Michigan and Indiana. This included executive roles—notably CEO—of Block's, a Michigan department store chain between 1985 to 1987. His goal, though, was to "get out of Michigan."

Notable Accomplishments

Larry Montgomery is perhaps best known for being a hands-on leader at Kohl's. Based in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, Kohl's opened its first store in 1962 in Brookfield, Wisconsin, and went public in 1992. The company's stock trades on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) under the ticker symbol KSS.

Montgomery joined the department store chain in 1988 where he held various positions before joining the board in 1994. He assumed the role of CEO in February 1999 at the age of 50 and became chair of the board in 2003. He stepped down from the board in 2009 and retired from the company the following year.

Kohl's launched its online platform in 2001, three years before beginning its loyalty program called Kohl's Cash.

Wealth and Philanthropy

Montgomery's success as CEO translated into his compensation. In 2007, he received $25.56 million from the company. The total compensation he received for the five-years ending 2007 was $$86.91 million, which averaged about $17.38 million each year.

After retiring, Montgomery made investments in various businesses, including restaurants, bottled water, and wine. He also invested in Argaux, an online wine company started by his daughter Arden and her friend Margaux.

Montgomery and his wife Sherry were also donors to the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Arizona. They invested a significant amount of money in the expansion of the school by establishing a new campus in the state, which launched a master's program in the Science of Health Care Delivery.

Legacy

Kohl's changed its image and expanded its footprint as a national chain under Montgomery's leadership. In 1999, the company had 213 locations in 22 states and expanded to more than 1,000 stores in 49 states by 2009. But that's not all. The retailer also developed and evolved a number of key operating tactics with Montgomery at the helm.

The design of the stores was particularly key, as Montgomery wanted to make shopping an experience and less of a warehouse-like feeling. He began avoiding locations in shopping malls and opted for stand-alone locations and gave the interiors a major facelift. This included adding more natural lighting and what he called more "feminine" touches. He also advocated for a racetrack design to help customers find what they need while keeping foot traffic moving.

Another one of Montgomery's goals was to help draw a younger generation of shoppers into Kohl’s and make it edgier. During his time there, Kohl's cut deals with major corporate and national brands like Nike, Levi’s, and Vanity Fair to boost sales and complement its own branded merchandise. Both Vera Wang and Avril Lavigne designed exclusive lines for the retailer, too. The current corporate compacts include a partnership with Amazon to carry the online giant’s home products and accept Amazon returns within Kohl's stores.

The company's financial success also boomed under Montgomery, going from $3.7 billion in 1999 to $16.4 billion in 2009. These latter results continue even today. The company reported annual revenue of more than $19.4 billion for the 2021 fiscal year.

Personal Life

Montgomery was married to Sherry Anderson. The two met while playing tennis in 1982 and tied the knot two years later. Anderson completed her undergraduate degree in English literature at Indiana University—Bloomington. The couple had two children, including daughter Arden.

Along with investing and his philanthropic endeavors, Montgomery spent much of his time golfing and traveling after retiring from the corporate world. Montgomery died on Aug. 15, 2019, at his home in Laguna Beach, California, in his sleep at the age of 70.

What Role Did Larry Montgomery Play in Shaping the Image of Kohl's?

Larry Montgomery joined Kohl's in 1998. He was appointed to the company's board in 1994 and assumed the role of CEO five years later. In 2003, he became chair of the board. As the company's leader, Montgomery shifted the way stores looked and changed the shopping experience. Stores had wider aisles, better lighting, and a cozier feel. He also cut deals with major names and added exclusive designer lines along with the company's own branded merchandise, all of which led to a boost in sales under his leadership.

How Many Kohl's Locations Are There Across the United States?

Kohl's is based in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, but has a large, national brick-and-mortar presence. According to the company's website, there are more than 1,100 retail locations in 49 states. The company also has a successful online presence on Kohls.com.

When Did Kohl's Go Public?

Kohl's went public in 1992. At the time, the company had only 76 stores in the Midwest. The company sold 11.1 million shares. The company trades on the NYSE under the ticker symbol KSS.

The Bottom Line

Larry Montgomery may not be a household name but he is well-known in the corporate world for his role as chair and CEO of Kohl's. During his time as leader, Montgomery helped propel the department store into a recognizable national chain. He was also instrumental in changing the shopping experience by giving stores a major facelift with natural lighting, wider aisles, and a cozier feel. And thanks to his deals with top brand names, te retailer also saw an increase in sales, which it continues to enjoy today.

Article Sources
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  1. The Wall Street Journal. "Larry Montgomery Led Rapid Expansion at Kohl’s and Brought in Edgier Fashions."

  2. Forbes. "#62 R Lawrence Montgomery."

  3. Reference for Business. "Larry Montgomery 1949–."

  4. Kohl's. "About Kohl's."

  5. Argaux. "Our Story."

  6. Mayo Clinic. "Larry and Sherry Montgomery."

  7. Forbes. "Amazon And Kohl's: Proof That Collaboration Works."

  8. Kohl's. "Kohl's Reports Fourth Quarter and Full Year Fiscal 2021 Financial Results."

  9. Nasdaq. "Kohl's: A Retailer with Sound Management."

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