Letter Urges Board and Investors to Consider Track Record of Debt and Bankruptcy at Previous Retailers Acquired by Private Equity Bidders

NATIONWIDE — Private Equity Stakeholder Project, United for Respect, and Americans for Financial Reform today announced that they had sent the below letter to Kohl’s Corporation’s (NYSE: KSS) Board of Directors and Investors:

An Open Letter to Kohl’s Shareholders,

Last month, Kohl’s confirmed that it has received several preliminary acquisition offers, including from two private equity firms – Sycamore Partners and Leonard Green and Partners.

The record of private equity firms in retail, including Kohl’s potential buyers, is marked by bankruptcies and layoffs. More than forty percent of retailers acquired by private equity companies filed for bankruptcy at some point after their acquisition, costing 1.3 million Americans their jobs.

Sycamore Partners and Leonard Green are no exception to this. The two firms have a track record of bankrupting five retailers since 2016, leading to tens of thousands of job losses.

Sycamore Partners:

Leonard Green & Partners:

  • Bought sporting goods retailer Sports Authority in 2016 and took the company into bankruptcy in 2016.
  • Acquired clothing retailer J. Crew in 2011 and in 2020, the company filed bankruptcy.

Like other private equity firms, Sycamore Partners and Leonard Green have a history of prioritizing short-term financial returns over the long-term viability of the companies they buy. Sycamore Partners and Leonard Green have loaded debt onto their acquired companies in order to then extract fees and dividends.

  •  In April 2019, Sycamore Partners drew media attention for taking a $1 billion debt-financed dividend from Staples, which it had acquired just two years prior.
  • Leonard Green & Partners and J. Crew’s other private equity owner extracted more than $700 million in management fees and debt-funded dividend payments in the years before they took the retailer into bankruptcy.

In 2018, under the massive debt load taken on by its private equity owners, KKR and Bain Capital, and years of underinvesting in the business and its employees, Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy. This had a massive economic impact, costing 33,000 workers their jobs and leaving numerous unpaid creditors.  A bankruptcy at Kohls, which has 110,000 employees, three times as many as Toys R Us had, could have an even greater impact on workers and communities.

We urge shareholders to reject any proposals that risk repeating the history of the above retailers by saddling Kohls with debt at the expense of reinvesting in the business.


Bianca Agustin                       

Corporate Accountability Director, United for Respect                       

Jordan Ash

Labor/Jobs Director, Private Equity Stakeholder Project

Ricardo Valdez

Private Equity Campaign Manager, Americans for Financial Reform




About United For Respect:
United for Respect (UFR) is a national non-profit organization. UFR is a multiracial movement of working people throughout the U.S. advancing a vision of an economy where our work is respected and our humanity recognized. UFR is not a labor union and does not intend or seek to represent retail employees over terms and conditions of employment or to bargain with retail employers. www.united4respect.org

About Private Equity Stakeholder Project:
Private Equity Stakeholder Project (PESP) is a nonprofit with a mission to identify, engage, and connect stakeholders affected by private equity with the goal of engaging investors and empowering communities, working families, and others impacted by private equity investments. www.pestakeholder.org


About Americans for Financial Reform:
Americans for Financial Reform (AFR) is a nonpartisan and nonprofit coalition of more than 200 civil rights, consumer, labor, business, investor, faith-based, and civic and community groups. Formed in the wake of the 2008 crisis, we are working to lay the foundation for a strong, stable, and ethical financial system – one that serves the economy and the nation as a whole. www.ourfinancialsecurity.org.