CEO of Mooresville-based Lowe's to step down

Before he announced his plans to step down as CEO of Lowe's, Robert Niblock saw his pay decline about 11.5 percent last year.
Before he announced his plans to step down as CEO of Lowe's, Robert Niblock saw his pay decline about 11.5 percent last year. Courtesy of Lowe's Companies, Inc

The CEO of Mooresville-based Lowe's is stepping down, a move that will usher in a new era of leadership as the company works to catch up to its larger rival, Home Depot.

The home improvement retailer said in a statement Monday that Robert Niblock, 55, has decided to retire after 25 years at the company. The company's board of director has begun a search for Niblock's replacement, and in the interim, Niblock will remain in his position as chairman, president and CEO.

Lowe's shares closed up 6.6 percent at $89.30 Monday, a largely positive day for financial markets.

"After a 25-year career at Lowe's, including 13 years as chairman and CEO, I am confident that it is the right time to transition the company to its next generation of leadership. Serving Lowe's alongside our over 310,000 outstanding employees has been my great privilege and the highlight of my professional career," Niblock said in the statement.

The UNC Charlotte graduate and certified public accountant joined Lowe's in 1993. Before becoming CEO in January 2005, he was the company's chief financial officer. He took over the chief executive role from Bob Tillman, the architect of the strategy that transformed Lowe's from a small regional company into the nation's second-largest home improvement retailer.

In the past year, Lowe's has been working to cut costs and boost earnings at a time when home improvement retailers are benefiting from a strong housing market.

Earlier this year, Lowe’s reported fourth-quarter earnings that fell below expectations, despite a rise in same-store sales, an industry term key to gauging a retailer’s health. “We are moving forward with urgency to improve our results,” Niblock said in a call with analysts at the time.

Last fall, hedge fund D.E. Shaw, a longtime Lowe's shareholder, began building up an activist stake in the company, and now has an approximately $1 billion stake in the company. The firm has been pushing for changes at the retailer, and in January Lowe's announced three new board members.

“We applaud Robert for his successful career with Lowe’s, which was dedicated to serving customers, empowering associates and delivering returns to shareholders,” said Quentin Koffey, a portfolio manager at D. E. Shaw, in an email Monday. “Robert leaves Lowe’s in excellent condition to execute on the tremendous value creation opportunities ahead of the company. We wish him well in his retirement.”

Lowe's lead director, former Goodrich CEO Marshall Larsen, in a statement thanked Niblock for his "leadership, commitment and countless contributions to our company over the course of his distinguished 25-year Lowe's career."

The company's board, he added, is "committed to conducting a thorough and comprehensive search to identify the best candidate to serve as our next CEO."

The search committee is chaired by David Batchelder, a former Home Depot board member, and also includes Rick Dreiling, Angela Braly, Eric Wiseman, Bertram Scott and Lisa Wardell. Lowe's announced the appointment of Batchelder and Wardell as new board members earlier this year.

In the past year, Niblock had taken significant steps to reshape the company, including cutting jobs at its Mooresville headquarters as well as bringing in new leaders, including a former Amazon executive as its chief digital officer.

In a major marketing shift announced this month, Lowe's also said it was parting ways with NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson after 18 years as his primary sponsor in order to "invest in other strategic initiatives."

In 2016, Niblock made $12.67 million in total compensation, according to the company's most recent proxy filing, down from $13.16 million in 2015.

Niblock's departure marked the sixth CEO change among major local public companies since the beginning of this year.

The CEOs of restaurant chain Bojangles', Bubble Wrap maker Sealed Air, hotelier Extended Stay America, industrial conglomerate Babcock & Wilcox Enterprises and door and window maker Jeld-Wen Holding have all stepped down for various reasons.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta