Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Edward Lampert & The Demise of Sears

Earlier this year, Sears acknowledged publicly for the first time that bankruptcy might be a possibility.  The two charts shown here document the financial deterioration over the past decade.  Many people have placed substantial blame at the feet of CEO Edward Lampert.  In Forbes last year, Adam Hartung wrote about the unwillingess of Lampert to welcome and listen to dissenting views.  

Source:  Company 10K Filings

Mr. Lampert had no time for staff who did not see things his way. Mr. Lampert wanted his management team to agree with him - to confirm his Beliefs, Interpretations, Assumptions and Strategies -- to believe his BIAS. By seeking managers who would confirm his views, and execute rather than disagree, Mr. Lampert had no one offering alternative data, interpretations, strategies or tactics. And, as Mr. Lampert's plans kept faltering it led to a revolving door of managers. Leaders came and went in a year or two, blamed for failures that originated at the Chairman's doorstep. By forcing agreement, rather than disagreement and dialogue, Sears lacked options or alternatives, and the company had no chance of turning around.

Of course, others have argued that Sears' culture had become insular long before Lampert took over.   Fortune writer Geoffrey Colvin wrote about an incident in the early 1990s, when Edward Brennan served as the firm's CEO:

At this same time, shareholder activist Robert A.G. Monks launched a campaign to get elected to the Sears board and to reform its rules; he even ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal headed “The Directors of Sears, Roebuck and Co.: NON-PERFORMING ASSETS.” When he was finally granted an audience with Sears CEO Ed Brennan in his 90th-floor office in the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower), the functionary escorting Monks in the elevator reportedly said, “This is the first time bad news has made it above the 78th floor.” Star consultant Ram Charan asks CEOs if they’re hearing lots of bad news. Why? Every company has lots of bad news, he tells them, and if you’re not hearing it, something’s wrong.

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