Bed Bath & Beyond (BBB), in the aftermath of the death of CFO Gustavo Arnal on Sept. 2, has named Laura Crossen as interim CFO, effective Monday, Sept. 5. Per an 8-K SEC filing on Sept. 2, Crossen, who previously served as senior vice president of finance and chief accounting officer, “will be the company’s principal financial officer on an interim basis and will continue as the company’s principal accounting officer.”
Arnal, who committed suicide by jumping from his skyscraper residence the “Jenga building” in New York City on Sept. 2, had held the role of finance chief since May 2020.
Crossen, who has been with BBB since 2001, assumes the interim role amid significant corporate turmoil.
The retailer has suffered declining sales for years. Prior to Arnal’s death, BBB announced as part of its recovery plan it would lay off 20% of its corporate and supply chain staff and close more than 150 brick and mortar stores while pausing new store openings and remodelings. BBB also faces a class-action suit, of which Arnal was named a defendant, involving a “pump-and-dump” insider trading scheme. BBB has stated the suit is without merit. BBBY stock has fallen 54% YTD as of close on Sept. 6.
Although Crossen has been with the company for over two decades and is expected to be able to keep “reporting and the day-to-day going,” said Managing Director Cristina Fernandez of Tesley Advisory Group, as reported by WSJ.com, there is now a leadership vacancy at the top. Former CEO Mark Tritton previously exited the company in June following the company’s struggles. And in recent months, other key executives, including the chief accounting officer, chief merchandising officer, chief operating officer, and chief stores officer, have left the retailer.
As interim CFO, Crossen faces an uphill battle on numerous fronts. Appointing an interim finance chief is not always the negative often portrayed; it does offer an opportunity to see if the individual is a potential long-term fit. But as Seth Basham, managing director at Wedbush Securities, said, “I thought it’d be more likely that we’d see [BBB] appoint an interim CFO from a restructuring firm.”
To be sure, the promotion brings a risky and potentially systemic downside. Crossen, along with interim CEO Sue Grove, may face what has become known as the “glass cliff.” This expression refers to situations in which women, during a company’s moments of crisis, are promoted to leadership positions where failure is increasingly likely.
Such a situation where the probability of failure is significantly higher than in more normal business cycles can lead to companies setting up their female senior leaders for failure, or cause them to pass on the opportunity entirely.
“If you don’t succeed, you’re gone,” said Amy Shelly, CFO of The Options Clearing Corp., in 2019. “That’s a hard message. Women are still held to a very different standard than men are. It’s higher. It’s harder. And I haven’t quite figured out how to change that assumption and mindset.”
With the gap in finance leadership at BBB, Crossen has moved up the ranks quickly. Since June 30, she has gone from senior vice president of treasury and investor relations to chief accounting officer (replacing departing CAO John Barresi) to interim CFO.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or 1-800-273-8255.