Barnes & Noble has spent $24 million on three failed CEOs in four years, and it’s ready to try again

Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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Barnes & Noble has been struggling to find someone to helm its drifting ship. After an eight-month search for a CEO, it promoted Demos Parneros to the role, just five months after he joined the company as chief operating officer.

Parneros has little book-selling experience to speak of—prior to his arrival at Barnes & Noble in November, he held several management positions at Staples since 1987—but it’s not clear this is much of a disadvantage. Even the most experienced hands in book retailing have struggled to keep up with the industry’s massively changing landscape, which helps explain why the company has churned through three CEOs in three years.

As Americans increasingly want the speed and ease of Amazon’s delivery service or the delight of browsing custom, independent book shops, Barnes & Noble is attempting to transform its cookie-cutter locations. The business for its Nook e-reader, a competitor to the Amazon Kindle, has been a disaster. And now Amazon is coming directly for Barnes & Noble’s core business, with plans to open Amazon-branded bricks-and-mortar bookstores at a rapid clip.

It’s not clear what much-needed vision Parneros will bring to the company, but presumably he will be getting advice from founder Len Riggio, who had been serving as interim CEO and will remain on as chairman.

Ron Boire, formerly of Sears Canada, was CEO for less than a year before he was ousted last August. The collective cash payout for him and his two short-lived predecessors has totaled roughly $24 million.