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A Wisconsin native is now leading a retailing giant that is trying to dig its self out a major hole in a challenging environment for brick and mortar stores.

Jill Soltau, who grew up in Viroqua and is a 1989 graduate of UW-Stout, was named last month the CEO of J.C. Penney. She replaces Marvin Ellison, who resigned this summer after four years to become CEO of the Lowe’s home improvement chain.

“J.C. Penney is a quintessential American brand with a strong and loyal customer base, and I couldn’t be prouder to lead such an iconic retailer,” Soltau said in a company news release. “I am highly passionate about the customer, and I spent my entire career focused on the needs of a value-based consumer by researching, understanding and meeting her expectations for style, quality and inspiration.”

Soltau had most recently been CEO of JOANN Stores, a position she held since 2015.  JOANN has more than 850 fabric and craft stores in 49 states. Soltau is a former president of Shopko Stores and also held positions with Sears, Carson Pirie Scott, Kohl’s and Macy’s. In her 30-year career in retail, Soltau has held executive positions in merchandising, planning and private brand management.

At J.C. Penney, Soltau, a graduate of UW-Stout’s retail merchandising and management undergraduate program, will try and bring the company out of nearly $4 billion in debt and turn around sales that have declined for each of the past three years. In 2017, the company closed 140 of its 1,000 stores.

Send retail-related tips and story ideas to or call Barry Adams at 608-252-6148.