Nordstrom stock surges after activist investor Ryan Cohen buys stake

Shoppers exit Nordstrom at the King of Prussia Mall on December 11, 2022 in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

Mark Makela | Getty Images

Shares of Nordstrom surged Friday morning after activist investor and meme stock maven Ryan Cohen bought a major stake in the high-end department store company.

The stock rose more than 20% Friday.

Cohen is now one of Nordstrom’s top five nonfamily shareholders and wants to use his new position to shake up the retailer’s board, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. He’s interested in board changes that could support cost cutting efforts amid a decline in Nordstrom’s market cap.

Nordstrom, for its part, said it was open to hearing Cohen out.

“While Mr. Cohen hasn’t sought any discussions with us in several years, we are open to hearing his views, as we do with all Nordstrom shareholders,” the company said in a statement. “We will continue to take actions that we believe are in the best interests of the company and our shareholders.”

Cohen previously traveled to Seattle, where the company is based, to meet with members of the Nordstrom family and learn more about the business, the people said. It’s not clear when the trip happened.

The news about Cohen comes weeks after Nordstrom, which has had to dramatically mark down prices to ease an inventory glut, reported lackluster holiday sales and slashed its guidance for the year. The company is set to report earnings March 2.

Cohen, who founded pet retail and health site Chewy, is considered a champion of the meme stock crowd. He is the chairman of Reddit favorite GameStop. He also triggered a brief rally in Bed Bath & Beyond last year before he ultimately dumped out of the stock. Bed Bath is expected to file for bankruptcy protection any day now.

Cohen is once again taking aim at Mark Tritton, the former Target executive who was forced out as Bed Bath CEO last year as Cohen’s firm pressured the struggling home goods retailer. Tritton has been on Nordstrom’s board for nearly three years, after having previously worked for the company from 2009 to 2016.

Cohen doesn’t believe Tritton should remain on the board or stay on as chair of Nordstrom’s compensation committee overseeing salaries for Nordstrom family members because he previously worked under them, the people said.

Erik Nordstrom is the company’s CEO, while Peter Nordstrom serves as its president.

During his tenure at Bed Bath, Tritton pulled in more than $40 million before he was fired last year. Cohen previously called him out on the compensation in a letter last year.

“Mr. Tritton should recognize that chief executives who are awarded outsized compensation and seek frequent publicity also invite much higher expectations when it comes to growth and shareholder value creation,” the letter stated.

Cohen has recruited a number of director candidates as potential replacements, the sources said. The recruits have previously held c-level roles at major retail and ecommerce companies.

The news was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

–CNBC’s Kerry Caufield and Lillian Rizzo contributed to this report.