Retail exec joins Cerberus

As the distressed specialist continues eyeing retail opportunities, the firm has hired a JC Penney executive to head up its Mervyn’s department store chain.

Retail executive Vanessa Castagna has taken a senior position with New York-based hedge fund Cerberus Capital Management.

Castagna will become the chairman of Mervyn’s, a discount department chain in the firm’s portfolio. Cerberus led a consortium including Sun Capital Partners, Lubert-Adler and Klaff Partners to purchase the chain for $1.2 billion from Target last year.

She formerly worked as head of stores, catalog and Internet operations for retailer JC Penney. Castagna has plenty of retail experience, previously holding executive positions at Wal-Mart, Target and Federated Department Stores.

She left JC Penney last year after reportedly being passed over for the store’s top spot when Allen Questrom retired. Myron Ullman III was chosen for the job.

'I have had the privilege to lead winning teams in merchandising, marketing, sourcing and operations within many diverse business formats,' Castagna told the Dallas Morning News. 'I am really excited to be able to leverage my retail expertise and passion for this industry in this new business environment.'

Private equity continues to be interested in the retail sector. In March, private equity firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Bain Capital teamed up with Vornado Realty Trust to buy toy retailer Toys R Us for about $6.6 billion

Cerberus also put in a failed bid for the Toys R Us chain. The firm currently manages more than $14 billion in capital.