Book giant Barnes & Noble Inc. announced a major shakeup of its top management Thursday, saying it was replacing Chief Executive Steve Riggio with the head of its online division.
William Lynch, 39, joined the New York company in February 2009 as president of its website, Barnes & Noble.com. He succeeds Riggio, who had been chief executive of the company since 2002 and is the younger brother of company Chairman Leonard Riggio.
The move comes at a difficult time for Barnes & Noble. The world's largest bookseller has seen its store sales decline as more customers migrate online and is in the midst of a heated battle to protect its shares from billionaire Los Angeles investor Ron Burkle.
Burkle, who has been aggressively buying the company's stock since late last year, recently criticized Barnes & Noble's governance and slammed its board of directors for rebuffing his attempts to raise his stake to as much as 37%.
Barnes & Noble said in a statement that Steve Riggio, 55, would remain vice chairman and would still "be actively involved in the company."
In an interview with The Times this month, Lynch said he was confident that Barnes & Noble's wide reach -- more than 700 stores in 50 states, plus college, online and publishing divisions -- would allow it to succeed in the evolving book business.
But he stressed that he still saw a place for physical bookstores despite the rise of online sellers and digital e-readers such as Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle and the company's own Nook.
"In terms of where the business exists, physical books and bookstores will continue to be a very important part of this big industry," he said.
In a statement, Leonard Riggio said Lynch had done "a superb job in quickly establishing Barnes & Noble as a major player in e-commerce and digital content."
"Given the dynamic nature of the book industry, William is uniquely qualified to lead the company's transition," he said.
The company also announced the promotion of Chief Operating Officer Mitchell Klipper, 52, to chief executive of its retail group, which includes the Barnes & Noble retail business and the Barnes & Noble College Booksellers business.
In a conference call with analysts and investors Thursday morning, Leonard Riggio said the moves were important steps to "securing the company's future" and said it was "unquestionably the right time to make this transition."
"We've always been concerned with the continuity of our enterprise," he said. "From the outset, this business has not been about us but about all the stockholders of Barnes & Noble."