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Soltau

MENOMONIE — A 1989 UW-Stout graduate will take the reins of struggling retailer J.C. Penney Co. as CEO on Oct. 15.

Jill Soltau is a graduate of UW-Stout’s retail merchandising and management undergraduate program, according to a university statement.

Soltau, 51, will be the first woman to head the 116-year-old department store chain based in Plano, Texas. She joins Penney from JoAnn Stores, a Hudson, Ohio-based fabric and crafts company of 850 locations in 49 states, where she was president and CEO since February 2015. She was credited with helping advance a strategic growth plan that included revitalized branding, refreshed merchandising strategy and customer-focused storefront innovation.

In an interview in late July, Penney Chairman Ron Tysoe said the board wanted to include women among the candidates interviewed. Only 25 female CEOs are in this year’s Fortune 500, where Penney ranks 235th with $12.5 billion in annual revenue.

“Jill has the talent and passion to revitalize the business and position the company for growth,” Tysoe said in a statement.

About 70 percent of Penney’s customers are women.

The 30-year retail veteran takes over with Penney stock trading at historic lows, under $2 a share. The retailer has been without a CEO since May, when Marvin Ellison left to become CEO at home improvement chain Lowe’s.

In after-hours trading Tuesday, Penney shares shot up 10 percent after the hiring was announced. Analysts have said Penney’s success hinges on finding the right CEO to guide its turnaround.

Soltau previously was president of Green Bay-based Shopko Stores and also has worked for Sears, Carson Pirie Scott, Kohl’s and Macy’s. She is a native of Viroqua.

Tribune News Service contributed to this report.