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Indigo founder Heather Reisman returns as CEO of retailer

TORONTO — The woman who built Indigo Books & Music Inc. into a Canadian retail juggernaut is returning to the helm of the company just weeks after her retirement.
Indigo Books & Music Inc. says founder Heather Reisman has returned to the retailer as chief executive officer. Reisman speaks during an announcement of her and her husband Gerald Schwartz's donation to the University of Toronto to help fund a new innovation Centre on campus, in Toronto, Monday, March 25, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

TORONTO — The woman who built Indigo Books & Music Inc. into a Canadian retail juggernaut is returning to the helm of the company just weeks after her retirement.

The Toronto-based books and home goods chain said Monday that founder Heather Reisman is back as chief executive officer.

She fills the void left by the abrupt resignation of Peter Ruis from the top job earlier this month.

"There is a clear path for Indigo to regain its momentum," Reisman said in a statement Monday.

"I love this company and its mission. Even more, I care deeply about our people, who have given so much to build this incredible company over more than two and a half decades. I know that together we will return Indigo to growth and profitability."

Reisman had served as chief executive until last year, when Ruis, a retail executive with experience at John Lewis, Anthropologie and Jigsaw, took over. 

Reisman retired from the Indigo board last month. As part of her return to the company, she was also reappointed to the board.

The move comes amid a flurry of changes to Indigo's leadership ranks and as the company contends with an inflationary retail environment and the continued fallout from a cyberattack that downed some of its operations earlier this year.

The return of a departed leader — a concept known as "the boomerang CEO" — is uncommon, but in Indigo's case, is likely stemming from the company's need for a steady, experienced leader amid change, said Richard Leblanc, a professor of governance, law and ethics at York University.

"The founder comes back to stabilize things and there are considerable reasons for this because founders know where the bodies are buried," he said.

"They know exactly how to manage."

Reisman was likely also chosen because it's not easy to find a chief executive under such short notice and in "a highly distressed industry," where investors and the public are already wondering about the company's leadership turnover.

"It almost looks like musical chairs," Leblanc said.

"What investors want to see is a smooth transition, not a second resignation in six months or so," he said. "So now this is creating a third round of raised eyebrows."

In addition to Reisman's return, Indigo announced chief financial officer Craig Loudon has been appointed chief operating officer. He will also continue to act as the chief financial officer and lead the finance team.

Before Reisman's retirement as executive chair and a director in August, four of Indigo's 10 directors left the board, with Dr. Chika Stacy Oriuwa attributing her resignation to a "loss of confidence in board leadership" and "mistreatment."

Indigo also announced Monday the appointment of Markus Dohle, chair of the board's human resources, compensation and governance committee, as chair of the board and the addition of Eileen Naughton as a director.

Naughton is a former chief people officer at Google Inc. 

The changes leave plenty of work for Reisman to tackle immediately, Leblanc said.

"The task for Ms. Reisman is to stop the hemorrhaging and to reset Indigo for the future," he said.

"That could include cuts, it could include making changes that are less focused on books and more focused on home goods, so hopefully this reset is what is needed and everybody will play nicely together."

Indigo shares soared almost 26 per cent Monday, up 35 cents to $1.70. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2023.

Companies in this story: (TSX:IDG)

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press