(Adds Ancora comment; Updates share price)
By Uday Sampath Kumar
Nov 8 (Reuters) - Kohl's Corp Chief Executive Michelle Gass will step down and take the helm at Levi Strauss & Co amid renewed calls from activist investors for management and board reshuffles at the struggling department store chain.
Gass came under renewed pressure from hedge funds Macellum Advisors and Ancora Holdings after Kohl's decided in July to remain independent after exploring a sale.
The former Starbucks executive, who became Kohl's CEO in 2018, will leave in December to become president at Levi's early next year before taking over from long-time boss Chip Bergh within 18 months.
Bergh has led Levi's for the last 11 years and was involved in the company's return to public markets in 2019.
At Levi's, Gass faces the challenge of helping the denim maker navigate out of an inflationary environment that has caused a slump in discretionary spending and hit earnings. "I expect Gass' focus at Levi's will be on bringing the company closer to consumers through better distribution and direct selling, particularly online," Neil Saunders, managing director at research firm GlobalData, said.
Gass is no stranger in finding ways to pull in new retail customers, having helped drive more traffic to Kohl's stores through tie-ups with Sephora and Amazon.com Inc.
Kohl's said Tom Kingsbury, a director nominated by Macellum and Ancora last year, will serve as interim CEO from Dec. 2.
Ancora said on Tuesday it was "pleased" with Kingsbury's appointment and that it was the right time for Kohl's to pivot to new leadership. Macellum did not respond to a request for comment.
Kohl's shares climbed 7.4% to $28.83 on Tuesday, while Levi's stock fell about 1%. (Reporting by Uday Sampath, Deborah Sophia and Mehr Bedi in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Sriraj Kalluvila)