Helena Foulkes leaving CVS to lead Saks, Lord & Taylor

(Photo Courtesy: Amy Lanctot)

WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – One of Rhode Island’s most high-profile business leaders is leaving the state’s largest company.

Longtime CVS Health executive Helena Foulkes, a Providence native who is currently president of the company’s retail division, is leaving the Woonsocket drugstore giant to become CEO of Hudson’s Bay Co., the Toronto-based owner of the Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor department stores.

“Helena is a transformational leader who will invigorate the business with a new perspective as we position HBC for the future,” Richard Baker, executive chairman of Hudson’s Bay, said in a statement Monday announcing her hiring. She starts her new job Feb. 19.

Helena Foulkes (photo: CVS)

Foulkes, 53, said she was “honored” to get be chosen. “The future of retail will be defined by companies that think creatively about where the consumer and the world are headed,” she said in a statement.

There was no comment from CVS, where Foulkes has worked since 1992. She earned $5.2 million in 2016, and is currently the highest-ranking woman in the company’s executive ranks.

Foulkes has appeared on Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women in Business list and was often discussed as a potential successor to CVS CEO Larry Merlo. Just last month she appeared on “CBS This Morning” to announce the company’s decision to stop airbrushing models in its beauty ads. Last year she was reportedly considered to become CEO of ride-sharing company Uber.

Foulkes served as as vice chair of what was then the R.I. Economic Development Corporation under Gov. Lincoln Chafee, but resigned due to reported disagreements with him over how to handle the collapse of 38 Studios. Her husband, Bill Foulkes, is chair of the R.I. Council on Postsecondary Education and on the faculty at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Hudson’s Bay has more than 66,000 employees and nearly 500 stores, and it’s significantly smaller than CVS, with total retail sales of $14.5 billion in 2016; CVS’s revenue totaled $178 billion that year.

“Ms. Foulkes will face the challenge of helping the company navigate a shift to online shopping that has battered retailers across the board,” The Wall Street Journal noted Monday. “Department stores have also felt the brunt of changing consumer tastes as more shoppers flock to fast-fashion retailers and off-price chains, while spending an increasing amount of their disposable income on non-fashion items such as restaurants and travel.”

Foulkes’ departure come as CVS is pursuing a mega-merger with the insurer Aetna, a deal executives argue will allow the company to take a more integrated approach to delivering health care.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook