What you are about to read is my opinion.
I recently wrote an article about the pharmacy and retail company Walgreens. One of the topics focused on Walgreen’s IT department and their Chief Information Officer Hsiao Wang. Wang’s rude behavior, lack of IT and software skills, lack of management and leadership ability, and poor IT strategy had created so much havoc within Walgreens that executives in the company contacted me asking for my help. Specifically, I was asked to write an article about Walgreens and present the truth about what was happening inside the company. The goal was to force the Board of Directors, HR, and other senior executives in the company to investigate the issues I raised.
I thoroughly investigated what was happening inside Walgreens. I spoke with over 50 current and former executives and associates. In addition, I spoke with senior leaders at consulting firms, pharmaceutical companies, and technology companies that have a business relationship with Walgreens. I used multiple sources to double and triple check the information that I was told. I insisted upon having the facts.
I encourage those of you who haven’t read my article about Walgreens to do so before reading the rest of this article. Hsiao Wang is instrumental to the story of Michaels IT failure and understanding what Wang did at Walgreens will provide helpful context. You can read the Walgreens article here.
“Don’t Talk To Brittain Ladd”
Michaels has done everything in their power to try and prevent this article from being written. Michaels is under the impression that I am trying to harm the company. That is false. I wrote this article to complete the story of Hsiao Wang who worked at Michaels prior to joining Walgreens.
Executives at Michaels informed many people within the company that they are, “not to talk to Brittain Ladd about Hsiao Wang and any projects Wang was involved in especially anything related to China.” Is Michaels trying to hide something? In my opinion, yes they are. Everyone who reads this article are free to form their own opinion.
I communicated with over 30 individuals from Michaels, individuals with direct knowledge of company operations in China, and individuals from companies and firms that have a relationship with Michaels. The individuals I spoke with corroborated the details told to me about Wang and what he was involved in at Michaels. Writing an article is a detailed undertaking. Among the information reviewed are bank records, internal documents, screenshots, emails. taped conversations, written first hand witness statements, hotel receipts, dinner receipts, financial records, copies of contracts, engineering design plans for products, internal testing data, and many other types of information. I’m confident that this article is accurate.
Note to all Michaels employees: I come in peace. I wasn’t able to speak with everyone in IT or the company. Please contact me if you have information you’d like to share with me regarding Hsiao Wang, Ashley Buchanan, or other executives in the company. Feel free to share information about the projects I discuss in this article or provide me with details about other projects you believe I’ll be interested in. I especially want you to contact me if anything in this article is incorrect so I can edit the article. Your name will be kept confidential.
Ashley Buchanan Goes To Michaels
I’ve never met Ashley Buchanan. However, I have followed Buchanan’s career and when he was named CEO of Michaels, I commented to several retail analysts that, “I believe Ashley will focus on the blocking and tackling within the company and also address the issues in the supply chain. However, I’m concerned that he’ll get distracted by two things – technology and chasing the wrong strategy for growing the company.” Many new CEOs view technology as one of the areas they will need the most to succeed. In my experience, focusing on improving the supply chain and store operations is more important than immediately wanting to invest in technology.
Buchanan became the CEO of Michaels in 2020.
Prior to becoming CEO, Buchanan was the Chief Merchandising and Chief Operating Officer for Walmart U.S. eCommerce. Buchanan was also the former Chief Merchant at Sam’s Club where he led a merchandising team and oversaw activities including assortment, private brand strategy, pricing, global sourcing, packaging, replenishment and supply chain. He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance and real estate as well as a Master of Business Administration from Baylor University.
When Buchanan joined Michaels, the company was public but Apollo Global Management took Michaels private in a $3.3B deal in 2021. (This is a very important point to remember.)
Buchanan joined a company that was the leading arts and crafts retailer in the industry. Although the company was facing different challenges like all companies, sources inside the company stated to me that, “Michaels had a solid foundation in place when Buchanan arrived.”
According to multiple sources, an area of the company that received high marks was IT. The department scored in the high 90s on company surveys filled out by corporate executives and business leaders. The executives leading the IT department were viewed as being “skilled and trustworthy with strong leadership abilities.” The department had delivered omni-channel capabilities to the company like BPOIS, and the department also installed Manhattan’s OMS software for online fulfillment.
That wasn’t enough for Buchanan. One of his first major decisions as CEO was making changes in the IT department and hiring Hsiao Wang to be the company’s Chief Information Officer, EVP. Buchanan and Wang had worked together at Walmart and Sam’s Club for several years where sources stated to me they had a close and friendly relationship.
All Hell Breaks Loose
Before I continue, I must mention that nearly everything written in this article appears in different comments left by Michaels associates in reviews at GlassDoor. Glassdoor is filled with page, after page, after page of negative comments about Hsiao Wang, Ashley Buchanan, Legal, and HR at Michaels. Employees of Michaels were openly begging for Buchanan and HR to “save them” from Wang in posts on Glassdoor – they were ignored. I have inserted examples of the types of comments left on Glassdoor by Michaels associates involved in the IT project with Wang. To read more comments from associates, search “CIO Michaels” at Glassdoor.
According to sources, upon his arrival at Michaels, Hsiao Wang quickly established a reputation as being, “woefully incompetent, rude, a bully, condescending and willing to break every law and rule to get his way. It’s inexcusable how Ashley enabled and supported Wang to lie, cheat, and destroy the IT department. Ashley is as much to blame as Wang for the disaster on our hands.”
The associates at Michaels who reported to Wang quickly realized that he had minimal English speaking skills but he liked to talk a lot – mostly about himself and all the great things he had accomplished in the past. Wang also enjoyed speaking about MIT where he had graduated from. Wang also spoke about the fact that he was, “Chinese and a member of the Communist Party. Wang told us that his family members, including his dad, were members high up in the communist party. We didn’t know what to make of this.”
Sources told me that they didn’t understand why Wang was spending so much time talking about communism until he had members of his team at Michaels watch videos extolling the virtues of Communist China’s “996 program” which consists of employees working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. “We must be 996 to succeed,” Wang would repeat often. Wang’s fascination with 996 resulted in many associates within IT working 18 to 20 hour days. (Glassdoor contains comments about this topic.)
I can’t name another company that would have tolerated Wang attempting to indoctrinate employees inside a company located in the United States to embrace communism. Michaels associates complained but nothing changed. Wang continued to push 996.
Wang also outlined for the IT department that under no circumstances would he speak on a cell phone like everyone else. Instead, Wang made it clear that he would only answer his phone and talk if the call came from the Signal app. Signal is a privacy app with strong end-to-end encryption that keeps calls and text messages completely private. Wang said it was “necessary for him to protect himself against lawsuits.” Sources I spoke with did say that Wang would sometimes respond to text messages and there were times when he did take cell phone calls but “not often.”
Although many people in IT immediately complained to HR about Wang nothing was done. This didn’t make sense to me so I located and interviewed individuals with direct knowledge of the relationship between Buchanan and HR. To say the relationship was strained is an understatement. Michaels Chief Human Resources Officer, who joined the company shortly after Buchanan’s arrival, left Michaels in less than one year. Without a robust and independent HR department, “things kept getting worse in IT,” according to sources.
Sources also told me that complaints about Wang, Buchanan, and others were taken to Tim Cheatham, EVP, General Counsel, Corporate Secretary and Chief Compliance Officer. Cheatham chose to “do nothing so the behavior continued.” Cheatham had also worked at Walmart before joining Michaels in 2020.
Within a few weeks of arriving at Michaels, Wang outlined his “grand plan” of what he was going to accomplish to members of IT and to Buchanan. Wang told the team that he was going to “fire” third-party vendors that included TCS, Accenture, Salesforce, and other vendors that supplied technology or services, so that the team could build all new software and solutions in-house. Why? To reduce costs for Michaels. To ensure he could achieve his goals, Wang secured Buchanan’s support to hire and build a new engineering team. Wang spent hours reviewing resumes and hiring engineers – over 400 engineers to be exact.
Among the things Wang outlined to be built internally included a replacement for Manhattan’s OMS; an internal cloud solution; a payment solution specific to Michaels; a replacement for Hadoop; MakerPlace, a competitor to Etsy; and also build ‘Michaels Marketplace’ to replace the company website. A source at Michaels disputes that Wang actually intended to build a replacement for OMS, but other sources who worked with Wang stated to me that, “replacing OMS was something Wang definitely wanted to do but other software platforms became a priority.”
Oh, I forgot to mention one small detail – Wang claimed everything on the list could be “built and delivered in four months.” Ridiculous. I’m a former consultant for Deloitte and Capgemini. I’ve worked on some of the largest IT transformations globally – nothing on the list could be built, tested, and delivered in four months.
I can’t stress this point enough – there is no way that Wang could direct the team at Michaels or any contractors to copy and develop software from Manhattan, Salesforce, or any other commercial software company, for less money than what it would cost to buy or lease the software. Large software companies invest millions of dollars and thousands of hours to develop their software. They sell their software to large numbers of clients and they charge enough to generate healthy margins while also paying for R&D, upgrades, system design, etc.
The idea that a company like Michaels would be able to build and support its own technology stack, keep it current, and support its ongoing improvement, is preposterous. A competent CEO and CFO should know this. The fact that Wang was able to convince Buchanan to support his plan for building everything in-house proves that Buchanan doesn’t understand technology.
The associates at Michaels quickly learned that it would be nearly impossible for them to do their jobs. Wang frequently changed his mind about what he wanted the team to work on resulting in “many changes and lots of rework.” Wang also insisted that the team members “work like they’re Chinese, not Americans” and demanded that team members work long hours. To make things worse, many people began to quit. Within a few months, the team dropped from 48 full-time resources to only 8.
Wang was unconcerned about losing resources as he had a plan – copy what he had done at Sam’s Club – open an office in China and leverage low-cost engineers to focus on software development. Sources told me that Wang was fired from Sam’s Club and the office in China was shut down. Although Buchanan was aware of these facts, he still hired Wang to be his CIO.
Wang hired the same individual he had worked with at Sam’s Club to open an office in China, to open an office in China for Michaels. In my opinion, Wang had a ‘Day One Plan’ when he arrived at Michaels – get the China office open ASAP. Buchanan “enthusiastically” agreed to fund Wang’s plan for opening an office in China.
This is where things start to get interesting. When Buchanan arrived at Michaels, the IT department was spending $9M to cover the cost of operating the company website – the website was running on Salesforce Commerce Cloud. The total IT budget was $100M. Opening an office in China and hiring engineers “increased Michaels IT budget to nearly $250M.” For example, instead of paying $9M per year to run the website, Michaels paid $40M per year for software development in China to build a new website.
The purpose of the office in China was to do one thing – “copy software from leading vendors for Michaels to use.” Copying software is illegal but that didn’t stop Wang or the team in China from doing so. According to sources who worked for Wang, “All of us on the team received screen shots from different software platforms with instructions to duplicate the software. We protested and stated how illegal that was but we kept receiving screenshots with instructions to copy everything anyway. When we complained again, nothing changed.” Where was Buchanan? Where was the Board? Where was the EVP and General Counsel? Where was HR?
The Apollo Connection
Many current and former Michaels associates and individuals with direct knowledge of the IT transformation raised concerns about “illegal payoffs” to U.S. and Chinese associates working and supporting the office in China. Comments were left on multiple Glassdoor posts reporting the payoffs. Nothing changed. The office in China grew in importance. But why?
Based on discussions with multiple sources, I was told that the motivating factor for opening the office in China and growing the size of the team was to create the perception that Michaels was a “leader in IT and systems on the level of Walmart.” A senior-level source that worked with Hsiao at Michaels stated to me, “Michaels IT capabilities were fraudulently represented to the team from Apollo Global Management evaluating a potential acquisition of Michaels, to influence their decision to buy Michaels. It worked.”
In my opinion, it’s certainly possible that individuals assessing Michaels would find a team of 400 engineers dedicated to IT in China compelling. The team would also be impressed by the big plans for IT. However, Apollo Global Management is run by Marc Rowan, considered to be one of the brightest minds in the world of Private Equity. Rowan’s nickname is “the Professor.” I’m skeptical that a team from Apollo would be so easily fooled into believing that Michaels “below average IT capabilities” were in fact “industry leading and above average.” I believe Apollo (who was supported by Bain and Company) would have conducted thorough due diligence on Michaels IT, and they would have discovered the facts about the China operation.
However, I could be wrong. I did not speak to any of the Apollo team members that assessed Michaels for an acquisition. In addition, I have witnessed PE firms assess a company’s value and potential to be an acquisition target without performing robust due diligence. The same thing may have happened at Michaels.
This is a topic that should be investigated by the SEC, Michaels and Apollo to confirm that no fraud was committed.
“We’re All Going To Jail”
In researching this article and listening to the story of Buchanan, Wang, and what was taking place in IT and China, the same thoughts kept going through my mind: Who was watching out for Michaels while all of this was going on? Who was making sure that nothing illegal was going on? Who was making sure that there was a robust review process for approving all capital expenditures related to the office in China and Wang’s projects?
Michaels certainly had a bulletproof capital review process, right? Right?
Michaels indeed did have a review process. It was managed by the ‘Capital Approval Committee’ which consisted of the CEO and other executives who reviewed, denied, or approved capital requests. However, according to sources, when it came to approving funds for China and IT, Buchanan would state, “There is no reason for us to spend time on this.” and the request would be approved without debate.
I also kept thinking who from Michaels was making sure that everything in China was being managed ethically to eliminate any reputational risk to Michaels. Apparently no one. Multiple sources stated to me that, “The CTO of West Asia was let go along with the Director of the office in Shenzhen due to a sex scandal where they were forcing employees to sleep with them in order to keep their jobs. They went so far as to remove emails from servers that were sent from women begging for help.” To avoid any reputational risk, no public comments were made about the terminations. Note: I tried to learn more about this matter but I couldn’t find anyone who worked inside the office in China who was willing to speak with me.
Customer data was another issue that caused concern inside Michaels. The ‘Red Team’ from Michaels, which is focused on compliance, made the argument to Wang that “the company shouldn’t approve sending U.S. customer data to servers in China with no apparent safeguards, and controls should be put in place to protect customers.” Wang denied the request and customer data continued to be sent to China without controls in place.
A pattern had begun to develop regarding Wang. He operated in a very “secretive manner” and he refused to share details with others in the company. According to sources, “Wang didn’t operate with a plan. He just does things and in a few days, he changes his mind and does something else.” This was of course frustrating to everyone who was depending on Wang to deliver the systems he stated would be built in four months. Nothing was delivered in four months. In fact, nothing was delivered. Ever.
It’s also very dangerous not understanding exactly what a CIO is doing. According to sources, “Wang operated freely. He had no restrictions.” However, Wang continued to “bully, threaten and say inappropriate things to people at all levels in the company.” There were so many complaints about Wang that Buchanan told his executive team, “Stop talking to me about Hsiao Wang.” Buchanan shirked his responsibility as CEO and created the impression that his direct reports “didn’t matter.”
One of the more interesting things I uncovered about Wang as I researched this article is that Wang had a “financial interest” in a company in China that manufactured electronic products. Wang had used the company to purchase products while he was at Sam’s Club – Point of Sale terminals, Kiosks, and RF scanners. When Wang arrived at Michaels, he continued to use the same company. Michaels acquired products from the company based on Wang’s recommendation and installed the products in their stores. The equipment “was of poor quality and didn’t meet the needs of Michaels.”
The appearance of impropriety is so strong regarding the purchase of products from the company in China that it begs the question: Who at Michaels would be so foolish to allow such a thing to happen? Granted, Sam’s Club had purchased products from the same company but Sam’s Club had also terminated Wang. Tim Cheatham, is the former SVP and General Counsel, Walmart International, and VP and General Counsel over Information Technology, Intellectual Property, Walmart.Com. Tim knows the dangers of operating in Asia. Why didn’t Tim call a halt to the plan? Did Tim provide a legal opinion regarding why it was OK for Michaels to purchase products from a company that their CIO had a relationship with?
It appears that I’m not the only one who was concerned about how badly the situation looked. Michaels CFO Mike Diamond got into a shouting match with Hsiao Wang where Diamond screamed, “We will all go to jail if anyone finds out about this!” The conversation was overheard by multiple sources. Note: A shouting match isn’t proof of a crime and I’m not accusing anyone at Michaels of committing a crime. As CFO, Diamond knew how much Wang’s strategy was costing the company. Although millions of dollars were being spent, Wang was delivering very little in return. Although multiple sources confirmed the comment was made, I reached out to Mike Diamond and asked him to confirm or deny if he made the comment but Diamond didn’t respond.
“Our Bad Reputation”
Michaels is currently a private company but much of what went on with Wang took place while Michaels was a public company. One of the things that the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) has identified as fraudulent behavior is Bribery of, or improper payments to, foreign officials. According to sources, Wang has close ties with senior leaders within the Chinese Communist Party and government officials. Did any foreign officials receive bribes related to Michaels operations in China? Did Wang receive any bribes? This is a topic that should be investigated by Michaels.
According to a senior level source at Michaels, “Our bad reputation is beginning to catch up to us.”
Negative comments on Glassdoor, comments made by current and former Michaels employees about what’s taken place inside the company to others in the retail industry, and Wang’s termination from Walgreens, has created a negative perception of Michaels. I strongly advise Michaels to hire a forensic accounting firm to investigate, quantify, and document any scheme that can be considered fraud. The perception of fraud is staining the reputations of Buchanan and others.
Among the questions a forensic accounting firm should ask executives at Michaels are the following:
- Did you financially benefit personally from any activities related to IT projects in the United States or China? If so, how much were you paid? Are you willing to undergo a forensic audit of your personal finances?
- Why was an office opened in China? Was opening an office in China a requirement to complete the IT transformation or was it merely a personal preference of Hsiao Wang? Was opening an office in China a best practice within the IT industry? Did the office in China copy software from other vendors? If so, what was the purpose? Why were so many engineers assigned to the office in China? Why were they hired?
- Did any officials within the Chinese Communist Party or any Chinese government officials, receive payment for any reason related to the activities of Hsiao Wang or other executives at Michaels? If so, who approved the payments?
- What was the opinion of the EVP, General Counsel and Secretary for Michaels, regarding the opening of the office in China? Did the General Counsel raise any concerns? Why or why not? Did the General Counsel investigate any complaints related to Hsiao Wang?
- What was the exact relationship between Hsiao Wang and the Michaels office in China? Did Wang have a relationship with any other companies in China? Did Wang illegally profit from any of the companies? Did any executives from Michaels illegally profit?
- Do any executives from Michaels have a relationship and/or a financial interest in any company in China? If so, who?
- Do Hsiao Wang and Ashley Buchanan presently have a private business relationship? Did they have a business relationship in the past?
- Why did Ashley Buchanan hire Hsiao Wang? Why was Hsiao Wang so important to Buchanan?
- Was any fraud committed during the evaluation or acquisition of Michaels by Apollo Global Management?
- Why did CFO Mike Diamond tell Hsiao Wang, “We will all go to jail if anyone finds out about this.” Did the CFO have proof of fraud by Hsiao Wang or other Michaels executives?
I’m certain that Ashley Buchanan and Tim Cheatham will support my recommendation for Michaels to contract an independent forensic accounting and law firm to investigate everything related to Wang and the IT transformation. As CEO and EVP, General Counsel and Secretary, Buchanan and Cheatham must mitigate any reputational risk to Michaels and ensure no fraudulent activity exists. I’m confident that Michaels Board of Directors will also support an independent investigation; due diligence is one of the fiduciary duties of directors.
A forensic audit will remove all suspicion or it will confirm that Buchanan, and possibly other executives, should be terminated.
“Millions Of Dollars And Nothing To Show For It”
The IT transformation championed by Wang and supported by Buchanan and other executives, was characterized by a constant series of starts, stops, detours, and dead ends. According to sources, “After spending millions of dollars, we have nothing to show for our efforts in IT.” None of the goals Wang stated he wanted to achieve became a reality. None of the systems that were going to be built internally were developed or delivered that were capable of meeting the needs of Michaels.
A source inside Michaels who worked very closely with Wang stated to me, “Everything Wang did wasn’t bad. The self-checkout system we built is much better than what we were using as a company before Wang arrived.” Other sources didn’t speak as favorably about the self-checkout system.
The 400 engineers hired by Wang were never managed. Some were hired and never assigned any work. According to a high-level project manager at a leading IT firm, “When I learned that engineers had been hired at Michaels, I was interested in how all of them were going to be managed and assigned to projects. To my amazement, I learned from several people at Michaels that no one was managing the engineers. They appeared to be forgotten.”
Wang resigned from Michaels after being at the company for 26 months. Multiple sources told me that Wang was “quietly fired.” Michaels did not provide me with an official comment on this topic.
As a new CEO, did Buchanan make mistakes? Yes and no. CEOs aren’t experts in IT. They hire CIOs to manage and elevate a company’s technology. However, Buchanan hand-picked Wang to be his CIO. Should Buchanan have fired Wang much sooner? Yes. Did Wang’s operating methodology make it difficult for Buchanan to thoroughly understand what Wang was doing? No. Buchanan and Wang were in constant communication with each other. Buchanan knew exactly what Wang was doing. Should Buchanan have done a better job of showing leadership and ensuring that Michaels established a culture of trust, respect, and inclusivity supported by a best-in-class HR department? Yes. Should Buchanan have insisted and confirmed a robust governance methodology was in place? Yes. Should the EVP, General Counsel, Corporate Secretary and Chief Compliance Officer been much more aggressive in his oversight of Wang and the office in China? Yes.
Buchanan worked at Sam’s Club and Walmart. Buchanan had to have known about Wang’s failures in IT at Sam’s Club. What was it about Wang that impressed Buchanan so much to hire him as CIO? In my opinion, I believe Wang convinced Buchanan that he could create a world class IT capability at Michaels and do so at much less costs than any other CIO, if Buchanan would just support him 100%. It’s plausible that Buchanan felt that his success as CEO at Michaels was tied to what Wang promised he could deliver.
Buchanan has been heavily criticized for what’s taken place at Michaels since he arrived. However, in Buchanan’s defense, he was under incredible pressure by Apollo Global Management and Bain and Company, to complete the transition of Michaels from public to private. Corporate culture and HR often get left behind in companies acquired by a private equity firm. I have experience with PE firms and I’ve witnessed that most CEOs push as much management responsibility and decision making as possible down to their direct reports when going through an acquisition. The strategy only works if the direct reports can do their jobs. It’s not an excuse but I understand why Buchanan’s priorities may have set him up for criticism that was both fair and unfair.
The Gangs All Here
Although Wang was considered to be, “The worst CIO we’ve ever seen and a bully” by HR and the majority of individuals who interacted with or reported to Wang at Michaels, he was still recruited by Rosalind Brewer to be the CIO of Walgreens in September 2022. Brewer worked with Buchanan and Wang at Sam’s Club. The fact that Brewer would hire Wang is shocking on the surface as Wang had been fired by Sam’s Club. However, Brewer had also been fired by Sam’s Club.
Whether Wang was fired or he resigned from Michaels doesn’t appear to have mattered to Brewer. Sources at Walgreens stated to me that, “Brewer wanted Wang to duplicate what he did at Michaels at Walgreens once he became CIO.” Based on the similarities between what Wang did at Michaels and Walgreens, I believe this is likely the case and a true statement. Wang was able to depart Michaels for Walgreens because of his friendship with Buchanan and Brewer.
Note: Hsiao Wang was terminated by Walgreens in October 2023 for engaging in behavior that was nearly identical to what he did and how he acted at Michaels.
What’s Next For Michaels?
Michaels hired Uma Bhemisetty in December 2022 to be the EVP, Chief Information Officer. Reviews on Glassdoor and other sites remain negative towards the IT department and management. I believe it will take two years or more and several personnel changes before Michaels IT department gains a favorable reputation from associates in the company.
As for the future of Michaels, the company has several interesting options. Regardless of what’s transpired at the company, the time has come for Michaels to think BIG and crush all assumptions. In my opinion, I believe the most interesting option for Michaels to pursue is approaching Walmart about a partnership. Specifically, brand Walmart’s in-store arts and crafts section to ‘Michaels’. Buchanan should recommend to Walmart’s that Michaels take over their entire arts and crafts category including all category management, assortment planning, buying, and marketing. It’s a win-win for both companies. (This is what I mean by “Think BIG.”)
If Michaels partners with Walmart, they should significantly increase their focus on Wedding and Party – both of these categories offer exceptional potential for revenue generation and profits. Creating an easy to use online platform for scheduling parties, trying on wedding dresses, and an endless aisle wedding registry should be priorities.
In addition to Walmart, Buchanan should meet with executives from Temu to discuss a partnership. Home Depot or Lowe’s offer interesting possibilities for opening Michaels branded sections within their stores.
Buchanan has high hopes for a Michaels competitor to Etsy called MakerPlace. However, I think MakerPlace is going to struggle. Instead of a competitor to Etsy, I encourage Apollo Global Management to assess a merger with Etsy (for example, a merger of equals) or an acquisition of Etsy. A combined Michaels Etsy offers exceptional growth possibilities. I believe Apollo has an opportunity to be very creative in structuring a deal to go after Etsy.
Michaels has also increased it’s online assortment to 1.5M items. I understand the importance of an “endless aisle” concept but I’m not convinced Michaels marketplace is the best option. I’ve completed extensive research on increasing online sales. I encourage Michaels to “Sell Everywhere, Deliver Anywhere.” In essence, go to where the customers are – all customers – which means listing their SKUs on all marketplaces.
Michaels should leverage it’s stores and costumes to create in-store studios that can be leveraged by Gen Z to make videos. Content creation is King for Gen Z. A partnership with Meta and YouTube should be explored. A partnership with TikTok offers interesting possibilities for Michaels. If done correctly, this is a massive growth area for Michaels. Michaels must do more to attract Gen Z.
Michaels should leverage their stores to meet the growing need of individuals interested in sewing. An interesting option is offering Michaels customers access to Temu or Shein’s manufacturers to create their own fashions.
One of the biggest opportunities for Michaels is embracing fashion and pop culture. When Michaels generated sales from knit clothing made by crochet that appeared on “The Bachelorette” and friendship bracelets for Taylor Swift’s concerts, Buchanan made the comment that he “doesn’t want the company to rely on Swift or The Bachelorette for growth.” Buchanan is missing the point.
Instead of reacting to what’s fashionable and popular, Michaels should become very aggressive in working with the music industry and film studios to introduce crafts and fashions that will be popular with consumers but that also can be purchased at Michaels. For example, insert scenes of arts and crafts into music videos and films. A partnership with Netflix, HBO, and Amazon Studios should be explored. Twitter (X) and Instagram should be utilized to drive sales.
I applaud Michaels for their focus on their supply chain. However, I encourage Michaels to consider alternative strategies for warehousing and fulfillment. Over the years, Michaels has experimented with both outsourced and company-operated logistics. An option worth exploring is outsourcing Michaels supply chain and logistics to Amazon. It’s possible that Michaels can reduce their annual logistics costs by over 30% through a partnership with Amazon. Amazon estimates that they’ll generate $100B in revenue from their ‘Supply Chain by Amazon’ third-party logistics service. Michaels would be wise to at least assess an outsourced partnership with Amazon to determine any potential value.
What’s certain is this – Michaels cannot maintain the status quo.
The question that must be asked is this – Was it worth it? Buchanan arrived at Michaels and discovered that the IT department was in all reality operating quite well. A plan was devised to reduce costs by building software in-house so that leading commercial software vendors providing software to Michaels could be fired. Obviously the plan failed. In retrospect, should any changes have been made to the IT department? Should an office in China have been opened to accelerate the illegal copying of software? Should 400 engineers have been hired to copy software? Should millions of dollars have been funneled to China with no oversight? Should Wang’s “management by chainsaw” been allowed?
As for Ashley Buchanan, the damage has been done. He needlessly allowed Hsiao Wang to terrorize, belittle, and bully associates and executives throughout the company. Wang openly broke laws and committed fraud – this cannot be disputed. When Buchanan was informed about Wang’s behavior his reaction was to tell his executive team, “Stop talking to me about Hsiao Wang.” Buchanan also terminated and pushed out executives who disagreed with him. Buchanan protected and enabled Wang. Buchanan shirked his responsibilities as CEO. Buchanan failed to be a leader.
The only logical next step is for the Board of Directors at Michaels to hire an independent forensic accounting and law firm to investigate everything that’s happened since Buchanan became CEO. The results of the investigation will determine if Buchanan should be fired or remain CEO. The investigation will determine if other executives inside Michaels should be fired or remain with the company.
Michaels bad reputation has indeed caught up with them. Now is the time to repair the damage.