Liz Rodbell Returns to Hudson’s Bay as President and CEO Following Sophia Hwang-Judiesch Departure 

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The Hudson’s Bay Company announced Tuesday that retail veteran Liz Rodbell will be returning to the role of President and CEO of Hudson’s Bay department stores. It follows the revelation on the same day that Sophia Hwang-Judiesch would be leaving the role for a new opportunity. 

Liz Rodbell.

The announcement comes on the heels of a challenging time for the Hudson Bay Company’s retail division, which recently was behind on payments to vendors and has since seen a cash injection from the sale of some real estate assets. 

Rodbell rejoins Hudson’s Bay on Friday of this week. She was most recently a consultant with LHR Advisors, a firm that she founded — prior to that she was president of retail at Steve Madden from 2018 to 2022. Rodbell led Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor from 2013 until 2017. She began working at Lord & Taylor in 1985 as a dress buyer, according to her LinkedIn. The Lord & Taylor chain closed in 2020 after HBC sold it to Le Tote. 

Richard Baker, Governor and Executive Chairman of HBC, said in a statement, “I am delighted to welcome Liz back to the HBC family, and I am certain she will drive the continued transformation of Hudson’s Bay to deliver the most exciting shopping experience for Canadian customers.” He added, “When she was last with the company, Liz drove 22% sales growth for Hudson’s Bay.”

Sophia Hwang-Judiesch is stepping down from her role as head of Hudson’s Bay to pursue another opportunity. Hwang-Judiesch announced her departure on LinkedIn on Tuesday afternoon. Hwang-Judiesch was appointed as President of Hudson’s Bay stores in September of 2022, while Iain Nairn held the role of President and CEO of the then-separate ‘The Bay’ digital division. The divisions were merged back together in early 2023, coinciding with Nairn’s departure

LinkedIn post by Sophia Hwang-Judiesch on November 28, 2023. Photo: LinkedIn.

“Sophia has been a driving force and steady hand at Hudson’s Bay, and we are grateful for her many contributions in leading us through a very challenging time in our industry. We wish her continued success,” said Governor Baker in a statement. 

“My gratitude for the team at Hudson’s Bay is immeasurable, and I could not be prouder of the people that work tirelessly to serve our customers, in our stores, DCs and offices across the country. I wish Liz and the entire Hudson’s Bay organization much success,” said Hwang-Judiesch in a statement. 

Rodbell has a goal of making Hudson’s Bay stores better — something no doubt necessary at a time when stores are struggling. “My focus, first and foremost, is on the customer – ensuring we have the most relevant assortment, strong brand partners, and an overall experience that is inspiring and relevant to our shoppers,” said Rodbell in a statement. 

Black Friday Sales in Hudson’s Bay at CF Toronto Eaton Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
Hudson’s Bay from Atrium at Guildford on Lower Level – Photo by Lee Rivett

Last week Richard Baker announced that the HBC parent had raised US $340 million from selling real estate assets in Canada and the US. Money would be used to fund its retail operations after falling behind on payments to its suppliers, both for Hudson’s Bay as well as Saks Fifth Avenue which is also owned by HBC. 

For months, vendors were reaching out to Retail Insider saying that HBC was late in making payments. One well known brand told us in October that it was owed hundreds of thousands of dollars and had been waiting for payment since June, and that it was considering pulling its products from Hudson’s Bay stores entirely. Some vendors at a conference attended by Retail Insider were speculating on the future of the company, given the delinquent payments and other gossip. 

Other vendors told Retail Insider that they were still sending some product to HBC in the “hopes of getting paid”, and that the situation was becoming challenging. 

In Canada, Hudson’s Bay’s stores have in some places been looking more ‘tired’ as of late. Recent visits to some stores included non-functional escalators and in some cases, a lack of music being played in stores. One source that contacted Retail Insider said they thought that the non-functioning escalators were an attempt to save money, although a recent visit to some locations such as in Nanaimo, BC, showed a store with functioning escalators and ample music being played. 

That store in Nanaimo, which can be seen in photos in this article below, is indicative of the condition of many Hudson’s Bay department stores in Canada. The rather uninspiring interiors and product assortment are partly to blame for the retailer’s current challenges. 

Hudson’s Bay at Woodgrove Centre in Nanaimo, BC in November 2023. Photo: Lee Rivett.
Hudson’s Bay at Woodgrove Centre in Nanaimo, BC in November 2023. Photo: Lee Rivett.

To try to bring some excitement back into its stores, last year HBC relaunched the Zellers brand which opened an initial 25 shop-in-stores within Hudson’s Bay stores. Now all 83 of Hudson’s Bay’s Canadian stores have some sort of Zellers activation following the introduction of pop-ups in its remaining locations. The Zellers concept was made possible by a partnership deal with Kmart Australia to stock Zellers shop-in-stores with Kmart’s in-house brand Anko. 

Hudson’s Bay likely needs a lot more excitement to make its stores relevant to modern consumers. The dated interiors of many of its stores, coupled with limited customer service and a range of mid-market brands has resulted in a situation where many shoppers have shifted spending elsewhere. That includes to online channels as well as to the brands themselves, with many of the more popular brands carried at Hudson’s Bay now also having their own physical and online stores in Canada. Major investment would be required, along with a strong experiential strategy, to regain the interest of many Canadians to shop in Hudson’s Bay’s physical stores. 

A similar situation is playing out in the United States, where Macy’s has over the past couple of decades become the dominant department store chain in that country while offering a lacklustre experience. At the same time, in Europe and Asia, department stores are thriving with a mix of interesting product, beautiful interiors and strong customer service. These stores tend to skew more high-end, however, with margins justifying the extra expense of creating a strong retail experience that also usually includes a strong food and beverage component – something almost non-existent at Hudson’s Bay stores in Canada, save for some traveling food trucks that were part of the Zellers launch in the spring.

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Publisher & CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Advisor at the University of Alberta School Centre for Cities and Communities in Edmonton, former lawyer and a public speaker. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

15 COMMENTS

  1. That’s good news that Liz Rodbell is back. She knows the Hudson’s Bay business quite well. A sign hopefully that HBC is still serious about the success of Hudson’s Bay in Canada. Wonder if this hints to a return back to what Hudson’s bay was becoming when the started the re-brand of Hudson’s Bay under Bonnie Brooks. Maybe this will be a return back to the core focus of their business. Will be interesting to see whether Zellers continues to be part of their strategy? Maybe not?

    Their stores are in so much need of a renovation. Feel like there are a lot of simple improvements they could make to clean up the stores in the suburbs. Optimistic about this next chapter for Hudson’s Bay!

  2. I just visited Hudson’s Bay @ Polo Park today for the first time since Winter last year. I wanted to see the mini-Zellers pop-up in the basement. I was a little disappointed with limited Zellers selection when compared to my regular expeditions to Hudson’s Bay @ St Vital Centre where a quarter of the 2nd floor is Zellers. This Zellers pop-up occupied the area where Seasonal merchandise was displayed prior to 2020. The merchandise wasn’t merchandised as densely as at St. Vital.

    I hope Hudson’s Bay will become a better place to shop again. I sure due miss regular Credit Cardmember exclusive coupons (as found in CapitalOne statements), regular Cardmember Appreciation Discount events and VIP Early Access to most promotional events like Friends & Family Discount events.

  3. Will be an interesting year for Hudson’s Bay. I’m a loyal shopper and supporter of Hudson’s Bay and noticed in the last year many stores don’t have working escalators or music playing. Cash registers falling apart, very empty/dated stores. Hopefully Liz can turn Hudson’s Bay around and make it into a wonderful shopping destination for Canadians. The brand has potential it’s just been slowing allowed to fall from grace. Zellers has potential just not sure it was rolled out correctly. Even the updated HB Rewards program has had major issues. Seems like HBC needs to go back to the basic of retailing and win over the hearts of Canadians again. Only tip I can give is for the brand to play into its strong Canadian heritage, it’s probably one of the strongest Canadian identities but they don’t do a very good job marketing/ using that brand value. They should also try turning smaller underperforming stores into Zellers stores. The Hudson’s Bay brand is muddy with some really modern nice looking stores and some really old dated stores. There is no cohesive image of the stores.

  4. As a former retailer I look at The Bay and wonder how much longer will they be in business ? When will the cash injection stop.? If suppliers are not getting paid some will definitely stop shipping product or only ship partial orders.
    The product selection in both men’s and women’s is extremely weak with product not merchandised properly. You find clothing on the floor or scattered on tables.
    When you see something desirable you can never find a sales associate and if you do they are not trained.
    Unfortunately, I don’t see The Bsy staying in business much longer.
    If Easton’s, Nordstroms and Sears can close in Canada so can The Bay.

  5. Please keep this business open and improve where improvements are needed . We can NOT allow this type of history to leave us with only memories .

  6. Can’t count how many times I’ve been to a Hudson’s Bay store and couldn’t find an open checkout counter along with many other customers asking “where is the checkout”. Employees wondering around the store but never a checkout open. They need to create central checkouts on each floor and have a staff member at the checkout all the time. If customers want to buy products but can’t find a checkout to give you their money… how would a store survive? HBC lacks very basic customer service. I really try to support The Bay but they make it very difficult to shop there (no checkouts open or the checkout experience is very poor) on multiple occasions, it’s just not a one off it’s a major problem at The Bay. People aren’t asking for amazing customer service, they just want a simple and quick checkout experience. Most of the time that is the only “customer service” touch point they’ll receive.

    Also online pick up and returns should have a dedicated desk at the store, that is staffed. They have so much potential to leverage online and in-store shopping but they really lack at tapping into that potential. This is all coming from a major Hudson’s Bay fan but my love is starting to dwindle after multiple poor experiences, can’t imagine how a regular customer feels trying to give The Bay one last chance. They wouldn’t return to shop at The Bay again if they didn’t receive basic customers service.

    • Jason, you make some wonderful points. In Winnipeg, Polo Park has a centralized checkout in the basement for the Zellers pop-up and goods for the home (excluding major home fashions) while St Vital has had centralized checkouts since 2019 on both floors (except for full service departments like Beauty, Jewellery/Watches & major home fashions). In Winnipeg, Online Pick-up & Returns are located at the centralized checkouts where goods for the home are sold. I don’t like having to take my returns down or up an elevator to the basement or 2nd floor. It would be better if Online Pickup & Returns were located near an entrance on the ground floor.

  7. Liz Rodbell knows how to run a business. Experience, smart and learned from the best. I met her when I was a dress buyer at Macy’s. Please save the Bay. Congratulations!!!

  8. You need new buyers. The clothes are horrible and there seems to be nothing for the boomer generation. Also you took away the nice cafe in the Toronto Queen Street Store. A pop up Zellers is there which is truly a waste of space. Nowhere to take a break or get a drink or bite to eat. I won’t be going back and I shopped there for 40 years. Nothing left for me now, sadly.

  9. Hudson’s Bay needs to bring back food service establishments back to more of its stores. When I was a kid I have fond memories eating at the cafeteria in The Bay Kildonan Place before the store was remodeled into a prototype Zellers that sold an enhanced selection of fresh groceries and major home fashions (major appliances & mattresses).

  10. Looking forward to better assortment of clothing. The quality has been dismal lately. The Bay had been a favourite place to shop for womens wear, but lately it seems like “junk”, not at all appealling. I have an observation that has been echoed by others – when looking for a specific item in ladies wear in the Downtown Vancouver store, I had to browse over several floors of womens wear that were laid out by brand. I don’t care about the brand. I just wanted a plain pencil skirt. Very frustrating. Merchandising may appeal to vendors, but does not appeal to customers.

  11. Liz understands and respects what the Hudson’s Bay brand and Hudson’s Bay customers. Think Hudson’s Bay has lost that brand respect of what makes Hudson’s Bay… Hudson’s Bay. Hopefully she can pump new life into HBC and turn the ship around. Drastic and radical ideas need to be done with Hudson’s Bay. Think I speak for most Canadians that HBC holds a special place in our hearts and we want to shop here. Just make it easy and exciting for us to want to shop at HBC.

  12. So glad that HBC was able to get rid of Hwang-Judiesch before she runs the Canadian icon to the ground. Under her, I think the Bay’s assortment has deteriorated, the store has lost excitement, and pricing becomes aspirational. I hope Roddell can bring back the spunk to the brand and re-ignite consumers’ loyalty.

    Now I anticipate the Tommy Hilfiger brand to run to irrelevance in consumers’ eyes.

  13. Went into The Bay yesterday at Yorkdale (Toronto). First thing I looked for was some direction from a Bay staff and couldn’t “recognize” who they were. Finally found someone because I noticed a wire hanging out of their side and a small Bay ID badge. If I had to look any longer I would have left. You have people with some kind of uniforms or at least something that shouts out “I am THE BAY”, I can help you and I am smiling and if you are tired and you had a bad day “I am The Bay” and you have my undivided attention, come with me I will help you……..DONE, SOLD, HAPPY. Could you imagine an outfit or some kind of very eyeable/visual ID that invokes an immediate feeling of “I am at home and it will be good” says to you. But this is not only The Bay, I was at Pandora and the lady must have seen Madussa, with the warmth of Siberia and robotic functionality….I will not go there anymore in fact I will probably return what I bought, so if you shop on line then this is what you avoid and don’t want to experience.
    So show me the new Bay, cause it can’t get any worse, well money talks so if sales don’t pick up, your screwed.
    P.S. the young lady, at The Bay, with the wire sticking out the side took me with her and wouldn’t let me go until she could help whether the answer was good or not in favor of me…..O.K. still hope.

  14. i”m sad to say my dollar spend at the Bay conntinues to slide. Theres just nothing new here. It’s the same old merchandise reschuffled around the store. Addionally to add to the issses is that i’m now conditioned to make purchases at deep discounts because when i don’t the item always seems to be found even cheeper in a couple of weeks. I really dont bother much with shopping the physical stores unless I just happen to be near one. They look tired, dated and sad. As for the online experience, it’s no good news here either. Be it the poor functioning old app or the poorly functioning website the Bay does not make it easy to shop. Searches are abismal and derive bizarre results. Check-out screens dont add correctly and I spent a lot of time dealing with customer service on the phone to do things that should take minuttes. When the new Rewards system was launched I lost everything. I still am not receiving points. I gave up. So what was the Bay’s solution? Lets spread ourselves even thinner and relauncg Zellers. What a mess that is. if you’re going to relaunch a store then launch it. A corner of the second florr behind the pots and pans seems odd to me. It just makes a bad situation evrn more worse. I”m not sure whats going to bring me back. i was a VIP customer. I spent a lot. When I shop now I have so many more choices both within Canada an abroad. More selection, better service and better value. I used to make 75% of my online fashion and home purchases with the Bay only three years ago. Now if I spend 20% I’d be surprised.

    have so many other more relevant choices. i used to shop online at the Bay for 75% of my purchases. Now its more like 20%.

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