Anna Currence resigned yesterday as chief executive of Crown Books Corp. as a judge approved the Landover discount bookseller's plan to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from its creditors.
As part of its planned transition from that protection over the next 30 days, Crown said it intends to become a public company, with its stock traded on a yet-to-be-decided exchange.
Currence, a turnaround expert credited with breathing life back into the ailing chain of 92 stores, is leaving "to pursue other interests," Crown said in a statement.
"I don't think it came to either side as a surprise," said Steve Panagos, a financial adviser to Crown who is acting as its interim chief executive until a permanent one is hired.
Panagos declined to say whether Currence had resigned voluntarily and Currence would not elaborate on the details of her departure.
In August, Currence said in an interview that she hoped to be able to remain with the company once it emerged from bankruptcy protection.
But company sources said Currence has been involved in a contract dispute with Crown's investors. Although the specifics are unknown, the dispute is believed to involve pay incentives. Currence, a former executive at Barnes & Noble Inc., helped turn around Kitchen Bazaar before joining Crown last year.
Crown ran into trouble amid a family feud involving Herbert Haft and his son Robert Haft. Herbert fired Robert in 1993 as chairman of Crown and president of its parent company, Dart Group Corp. The two men are now competing with each other selling vitamins online.
Analysts said the bookstore chain suffered from neglect as the family feud intensified. At the same time, new competitors such as superstores Borders Books & Music and Barnes & Noble moved into Crown's territory, offering features such as coffee bars and poetry readings.
Crown also suffered the loss of senior employees, and publishers began to cut back on deliveries. A new computer system did not work as anticipated.
Currence helped get the computer system functioning and closed unprofitable stores. Deliveries have been restored and employees say morale has improved. The company recently began an aggressive advertising campaign.
Currence also helped arrange for Crown to receive financing from an affiliate of Shenkman Capital Management Inc., a New York investment firm that handles more than $2.5 billion in funds. The company has purchased claims from most of Crown's creditors and will be the retailer's single largest shareholder.
Bankruptcy experts say it is common for companies that emerge from bankruptcy protection to seek new management.
"It's unusual that a turnaround specialist stays around that long," said Richard Kirby, a bankruptcy lawyer with Dyer Ellis & Joseph in the District.
Panagos said he foresees no changes in Crown Books' strategy of selling books and magazines at a sharp discount. But he said the company is considering opening an online store.
"It's something that needs to be looked at very closely," he said. "Crown has no intention of doing an unprofitable strategy."
CAPTION: Anna Currence had said she hoped to stay with the firm.