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Mattress Firm Taps Former Media Exec As New CEO

The man who led the integration of NBC and Universal into a media powerhouse is now in charge of Mattress Firm.

Mattress Firm HQ

The country's largest mattress retailer named John Eck as its new CEO, replacing Steve Stagner, who resigned in April after leading the company through rapid and aggressive national store growth before succumbing to bankruptcy last October.

Mattress Firm emerged from bankruptcy a month later more than 600 stores lighter.

Eck has held a number of leadership positions in his career, most recently as a senior adviser with Rockdale Partners, a telecommunications, technology and media consulting firm. Before that, Eck was responsible for leading Univision's 120 TV and radio stations and digital properties, and he spent 28 years at GE, where in 2004, he helped merge NBCUniversal and was eventually named president of its TV and MediaWorks divisions.

“He is a transformational leader who has a unique ability to navigate highly dynamic industries and unite teams around a common vision that modernizes the company. The Board is confident in John’s ability to set a strategic roadmap and execute against it,” Mattress Firm board members said in a statement.

“The management team is intensely focused on driving continued performance during the busy summer season. John will support them in those efforts while evolving the organization to deliver a seamless customer experience across all channels.”

Eck's appointment marks a turning point with Mattress Firm leaders, given his past media experience. Both Stagner and former CEO Ken Murphy spent a majority of their careers in the bedding industry. Stagner himself formerly worked for two bedding makers, Sealy Corp. and Simmons Bedding Co., and was formerly the largest Mattress Firm franchisee.

Mattress Firm CEO Steve Stagner

But in the last couple of years, trouble reared its head with Mattress Firm under his leadership. Stagner became CEO in 2010, leading the company into a public offering a year later, and then into a high-profile sale to now-embattled Steinhoff International in 2016.

Steinhoff nearly collapsed in 2016 after it revealed that it was embroiled in a complex accounting scandal. An initial 10-page report issued by PwC that is examining the Steinhoff accounting irregularities has found that a small cadre of former executives — not including Stagner nor anyone from Mattress Firm — was responsible for structuring phony deals and inflating asset values to the tune of $7.4B.

Mattress Firm also sued two former in-house real estate executives and a former Colliers International executive for real estate fraud, with allegations the trio steered Mattress Firm to high-priced real estate in exchange for kickbacks and bribes.

That lawsuit has led to a back-and-forth battle of accusations and counter-accusations that include allegations that Stagner himself invested in Mattress Firm's real estate while serving as its CEO as he pursued an overly aggressive store growth strategy.

Most recently, Harris County Superior Court Judge Mike Engelhart scheduled a case status update with Mattress Firm and its defendants on Aug. 12. The suit has been active for more than a year, but its status is up in the air after Stagner's departure and Mattress Firm's bankruptcy.

There was no official explanation for Stagner's resignation, although some analysts contend that he was pushed out over the breakup of the marriage between Mattress Firm and its one-time biggest supplier, Tempur-Sealy, the Houston Chronicle previously reported.

“The best way for Mattress Firm to improve its profitability is to bring back Tempur-Pedic, and if that meant a CEO change, I suspect the board and certainly the company’s ownership group would do it,” Piper Jaffray & Co. senior research analyst Peter Keith told the paper in April. “The economics make too much sense.”

Eck's first day on the job is Tuesday.

“I am energized by the opportunity to join Mattress Firm and help shape its evolution into a customer-centric, innovative organization. I want to be part of a company where I believe the possibilities are limitless,” he said in a release. “Mattress Firm has incredible brand equity, a strong network of stores and distribution centers and tremendous potential.”