What on Earth is going on at Sears Holdings?
I admit it. Back in 2003 and 2004, I was reading articles about brilliant activist shareholder and financier Edward Lampert and thinking about the fun, challenge and money that could be mine if I worked for his $9 billion private investment fund, ESL. I try to remind myself that, at the time, everyone was pretty much thinking the same thing. In a long, mostly-glowing 2004 profile, BusinessWeek wondered whether the savvy businessman was our “next Warren Buffett.” In 2006, Fortune raved about Lampert, knighting him “the best investor of his generation” and the “Steve Jobs of the investing world.”
And now? Not so much.
He bought the once-bankrupt Kmart and used the free cash flow to purchase Sears. Even for the struggling retail industry, the combined entity – Sears Holdings – has been in a weird tailspin every since. Poor results, a total and utter online dissection of Lampert’s conduct (“In a quarter where the dismal is the norm, Eddie Lampert went out and basically told everyone to go f*&k themselves”) and claims of manipulated, “squishy” earnings reports.
And as for a warning bell specific to this blog, Kmart, Sears and Sears Holdings all have their top marketing spots open. Sears Holdings’ Chief Marketing Officer, Maureen McGuire, announced her departure due to “personal reasons” two weeks ago (and two weeks ahead of Sears’ announcing its second fiscal quarter results). Her resignation comes just two months after Kmart’s own CMO, Bill Stewart, left – also for “personal reasons.”
To have three choice CMO jobs go wanting in this kind of market? That is truly ominous. Let’s assume Lampert is still the genius that he once was. I am not a stockholder – so I can afford to not be angry – but I am perplexed.
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