Inside This Issue - Opinion
Itís time for Lampert to deliver on promises
May 14th, 2012
At Sears Holdings Corp.’s annual meeting earlier this month, Edward Lampert, the billionaire hedge fund manager who created the company in 2005 by merging the Sears and Kmart retail chains, certainly talked a good game.
Lampert, who is Sears’ chairman and controls 62% of the company through his ESI Investments Inc. hedge funds, outlined an ambitious agenda that is in step with changes in the retail marketplace — changes that Sears department stores and Kmart discount outlets, which at one time were on the cutting edge of retailing, have failed to keep pace with in recent years.
The emergence of consumers empowered by technology, who increasingly are demanding to shop whenever and however they want to, is recognized by Lampert and a management team led by chief executive officer Lou D’Ambrosio. Sears Holdings intends to respond to the new realities by mining data to better understand its customers; reaching out to them through the Web, mobile devices and other technology; and improving the in-store experience at both of its chains.
"We’re not here to just survive," Lampert told shareholders. "We’re here to transform."
The rejuvenation of Sears and Kmart will require nothing less. Under the current regime the company has chronically underinvested in its store base, opening the way for competing retailers to lure away customers from chains whose fortunes were already in decline at the time Lampert acquired them.
The impact of the blind eye that up until now Sears Holdings has turned to the fundamentals of retailing is perhaps best reflected by the company’s woeful sales results: Volume has fallen by more than $12 billion since 2005.
One can only hope that Lampert has learned from his past mistakes and is now serious about making the business work as a retailing enterprise. Many have speculated that, with his considerable financial skill, Lampert could do quite well for himself by divesting Sears Holdings’ assets, which include real estate and some well-known consumer products brands.
A better outcome would entail his following through on the commitment he made to restore Sears and Kmart to some semblance of their past glory. Lampert has promised to do so before and failed to deliver. Time is running out for him to make the vision of Sears Holdings he shared at the annual meeting a reality.