Inside This Issue - Opinion
Lampert as CEO won’t solve Sears’ problems
February 11th, 2013
Edward Lampert, the billionaire hedge fund manager who brought Sears and Kmart together eight years ago to form Sears Holdings, became chief executive officer of the struggling retail company at the beginning of the month.
He succeeded Louis D’Ambrosio, who stepped down after two years in that role to address “family health matters.”
In a sense, the transition is only a formality, since Lampert, who remains chairman of Sears Holdings’ board, has been calling the shots from the beginning. Commenting on the decision to take on the CEO’s duties at the time D’Ambrosio’s resignation was announced in early January, Lampert said, “The board feels it is important that there is continuity of leadership during this important period of transformation and improvement at Sears Holdings. I have agreed to assume these additional responsibilities in order to continue the company’s recovery and sustain the momentum we are experiencing.”
One can only assume that Lampert and the board are looking at the company as something other than a retail entity that pays its way by consistently meeting the needs of consumers. Sales, the most basic measure of a retailer’s appeal, have plummeted by almost $13 billion since the two iconic retail brands came together, a trend that shows few signs of abating. During the last two months of 2012 comparable-store sales at Kmart dropped 3.8% (although Sears did manage to eke out a 0.5% gain).
In Lampert’s defense, both Sears and Kmart’s glory days were over by the time he acquired the companies, with once loyal shoppers increasingly opting to take their business elsewhere. A consummate retail executive with a bold vision and a command of the fundamentals was required if the two chains were to have had any chance of reversing their fortunes. Unfortunately, Lampert failed to find that individual or allow the experienced retailers he did attract to do the basic blocking and tackling needed to make any brick-and-mortar store work. During Lampert’s tenure as chairman, Sears Holdings’ stores have frequently been criticized for being disorganized, dirty and out of stock — all the result of chronic underinvestment.
It’s not clear how that’s supposed to change now that he is also CEO. Lampert has demonstrated he has great skill as a financier; what Kmart and Sears need is someone with great skill as a retailer.