By Nora Naughton 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (July 15, 2020).

AutoNation Inc., the U.S.'s largest dealership chain, said Tuesday its former Chief Executive Officer Cheryl Miller won't return to the company from a three-month medical leave, making her the second chief executive to exit from the top job in about a year.

The company's longtime chairman Mike Jackson will fill the CEO role permanently, with the board extending his contract through 2022.

Ms. Miller, named CEO in July of 2019, went on leave in April for health reasons that the company hasn't disclosed. She took over last year from former chief executive Carl Liebert, who left abruptly after four months on the job, and during her short tenure in the top position, expanded the company's partnership with Waymo, the driverless-car unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc.

Mr. Jackson, 71, led the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., company as CEO for nearly two decades before stepping down at the start of 2019. An outspoken figure in the auto industry, Mr. Jackson is credited with expanding the dealership chain into an auto-retailing giant, with more than 300 stores in 18 states.

Mr. Jackson is extending his tenure as the U.S. auto industry has been hit hard by the state lockdowns and economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.

U.S. car sales in the second quarter were off about one-third from the prior-year period. While business is showing some signs of recovery, analysts expect vehicle demand will remain depressed for much of the remainder of the year.

In a cost-cutting move, AutoNation in April said it would furlough 7,000 workers and cut executive pay, and it postponed more than $50 million in capital expenditures.

While some of those positions could return as the economy improves, many positions will be permanently eliminated as AutoNation improves its online retail offerings, a company spokesman has said.

AutoNation said Tuesday its board has extended Mr. Jackson's contract as chairman and CEO through spring of 2022, at which time it will name a successor. The company said Mr. Jackson will retire with the appointment of a new CEO.

"While it removes some uncertainty around outgoing CEO Cheryl Miller's potential return, we are surprised that the company does not have a plan for a suitable replacement for CEO Mike Jackson until 2022," J.P. Morgan analyst Rajat Gupta wrote in a research note.

The 48-year-old Ms. Miller was the first female CEO of a publicly traded auto-dealership chain and had previously served as the company's chief financial officer.


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 15, 2020 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)

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