Who Was Larry Montgomery?

Larry Montgomery was a former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and chairman of Kohl’s department stores. Based out of Wisconsin, Kohl’s has both an iconic brick-and-mortar presence throughout the United States and a robust online presence.

Montgomery joined Kohl's in 1988 as senior vice president and director of stores. He was appointed to the board of directors in 1994, became CEO in 1999, and became chairman in 2003. Montgomery was known for helping to turn Kohl's from a primarily Midwestern chain into a national chain. He retired in 2010, and he passed away in 2019.

Key Takeaways

  • Larry Montgomery is a former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and chairman of Kohl’s department stores.
  • Montgomery joined Kohl’s in 1988, became CEO in 1999, and retired in 2010.
  • Helping to turn Kohl's from a primarily Midwestern chain into a national chain is Larry Montgomery's primary claim to fame.

Understanding Larry Montgomery

R. Lawrence (Larry) Montgomery was born in 1949. He got his start in retail in 1972 in a variety of positions, until he began to ascend through a number of executive positions beginning with Block’s in 1985, where he served as an executive vice president.

Between 1987 and 1988, he became the director of stores and general merchandising manager of the Softlines brand at LS Ayres before joining Kohl’s in 1988, and he helped the company go public in 2002 as its CEO beginning in 1999 and its chairman of the board in 2003.

Kohl’s opened its first store opened in 1962, and the company went public in 1992 with an initial public offering of 11.1 million shares. The stores primarily sell men's, women's, and children's apparel, in addition to footwear, accessories, and home furnishings. About half of the items sold in its stores are private or exclusive brands.

Factors Contributing to the Success of Kohl's

Much of Kohl’s success owes itself to a number of factors, but with Montgomery as a hands-on CEO and chairman, a number of key operating tactics were developed and evolved.

The design of the stores was particularly key, as Montgomery wanted to avoid any sense of customers feeling as if they were in a giant warehouse of a store without a clear user experience. He advocated for a racetrack design as a means of moving customer traffic through stores quickly while being able to find what they needed and in a sensible manner.

Under his leadership, Kohl’s also tended toward stand-alone locations rather than those inside shopping malls, so that customers could get in and out of quickly. And finally, while Kohl’s had their own branded products, they accounted for only half of overall merchandise, so Kohl’s cut deals with corporate and national brands like Nike, Levi’s, Vanity Fair, and others to allow customers a choice between their private brands and existing well-known brands in the general marketplace.

While Montgomery retired from the company in 2010, Kohl’s maintains and often exceeds expectations nationally. The company as a whole enjoys consistent yearly sales between $18 billion and $20 billion a year, and current corporate compacts include a deal with Amazon to carry the online giant’s home products within the walls of its stores.