Activist Investor Ryan Cohen Takes the Helm of GameStop As Its Unpaid CEO

Ryan Cohen earned the reputation as "the king of meme stocks" during Covid.

GameStop ended its months-long leadership shakeup. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Ryan Cohen, a billionaire activist investor and the founder of online pet supply retailer Chewy, has been named the CEO of GameStop and he won’t be collecting a salary, the video game retail chain announced today (Sept. 28). Cohen’s investment firm RC Ventures took a stake in GameStop in 2020—at the height of the “meme stock” phenomenon—and joined the company’s board in 2021. He is GameStop’s largest shareholder and was most recently the company’s executive chairman.

The announcement marks an end to GameStop’s months-long C-suite shakeup. The company in June abruptly fired its CEO Matthew Furlong and appointed Mark Robinson, then the company’s general counsel and secretary, as “principal executive officer” and general manager, GameStop said in a regulatory filing in June.

Investors weren’t particularly excited about the news. GameStop shares fell about 1.5 percent in today’s mid-day trading.

King of “Meme Stocks”

Cohen made his fortune from Chewy (CHWY), which he founded in 2011 at the age of 25. He acted as Chewy’s CEO in its early years and sold the company to PetSmart for $3.35 billion in 2017 in the largest e-commerce acquisition in history. Cohen stepped down as Chewy CEO in 2018 to pursue personal endeavors. The company went public in 2019 at a valuation of $8.7 billion.

Cohen never attended college and instead learned from his father, who ran a glassware importing business, as his entrepreneurial role model, he told Forbes in 2020.

“Dad showed me how the best decisions come from intuition, and he was careful not to bias me with his opinion,” Cohen said in the interview. “He always asked me endless questions, and those questions triggered me to find my own solutions.”

During the Covid pandemic, Cohen earned the reputation as “the king of meme stocks” after his investment firm RC Ventures helped drive the wild stock surge of GameStop and a few other companies with weak financial fundamentals.

Cohen is an activist investor. These types of investors often seek to control a company by purchasing a large stake in it and then demanding board seats. Cohen’s investment firm bought a stake in GameStop in 2020, and in January 2021 he and two former Chewy executives—Alan Attal and Jim Grube—joined GameStop’s board. His firm RC Ventures was GameStop’s largest shareholder with a 12.1 percent stake as of June, according to regulatory filings.

Earlier this year, Cohen bought a stake in the department store Nordstrom and sought to shake up its board of directors.

In 2022, RC Ventures bought a stake in Bed Bath & Beyond. Cohen was then accused of orchestrating a pump-and-dump scheme when he abruptly sold RC’s entire 9.8 percent stake in Bed Bath & Beyond in August last year and profited $68 million. Cohen is worth $3.2 billion, according to Forbes.

Activist Investor Ryan Cohen Takes the Helm of GameStop As Its Unpaid CEO