Lessons from the Transformation of Sears
Written by and
Format: eBook, 256 pages
Publisher: Crown Business
ISBN: 978-1-4000-4522-8 (1-4000-4522-3)
Pub Date: October 30, 2001
Buy this eBook
For the better part of a century, Sears, Roebuck and Company touched the lives of almost everyone in America. A stunning tale of marketing and savvy, the company started selling watches and quickly became an essential source of goods for the American home. Sears brought the Christmas dreams of distant children to life; introduced the American homemaker to a collection of appliances that stripped much of the drudgery from daily living; and put solid, dependable tools in the hands of strong, eager men. At the same time, it forged a solid relationship with its customers, earning that most valuable business asset of them all: loyalty.
And then, when it could least afford to, Sears lost its way. It gradually forgot about its customers. It no longer understood (or cared) who its competitors were. It shifted its focus inward, to the interests and needs of its huge bureaucracy, all at the expense of the customers who found themselves in declining, dismal stores. The greatest retailer in world history had become a company with a great past, a disappointing present, and a dismal future.
The Hard Road to the Softer Side: Lessons from the Transformation of Sears is the story of how Sears recovered from this downfall, told by the visionary who built the team that forged the company’s rebirth. When Arthur Martinez took charge at Sears in 1992, he found a once-great company facing a loss of $4 billion, with a Soviet-style bureaucracy, little idea of its target customer, and an army of 300,000 disheartened employees. Many experts thought Sears was too far gone to save.
But save it Martinez did, putting Sears in the black by 1994 and sailing on through 1997. It wasn’t easy. Almost everything the company had become needed to change. Fifty thousand jobs disappeared. The Sears catalog, which had become so much a part of the company’s mythology, was put to rest. More than 100 stores were closed. But what rose from all of that turmoil was a new commitment to customers and a strategy that should have been apparent: in the American family, the mother is the chief financial officer.
With a boldness and determination backed by billions of dollars in renovations, Sears revived its connection to its customers and, at the same time, brought its own people back to life. The advertising sent the message, the sales staff opened its arms, and the customers came back. The new Sears was keeping its eye on the marketplace, its focus on the customer, and its interests firmly connected to the financial health of its shareholders. Then Sears hit the wall again with new aggressive competitors, a huge ethics problem, a war for talent, and a slowdown in sales.
The story of how Martinez and his team worked their way through not one but two crises is compelling and highly instructive, especially for anyone working in a company with an entrenched corporate culture or a long tradition that needs to be updated in order to stay competitive.
“Arthur Martinez provides us with a genuinely inspiring and challenging story of the great Sears turnaround of the 1990s. Learning this story will provide every manager and business leader with invaluable insights on how to build a stronger, more customer-centric business.”
—Adrian J. Slywotzky, vice president of Mercer Management Consulting and author of The Profit Zone and How Digital Is Your Business?
“Be warned. This is a story as gripping as a good novel, complete with easily absorbed wisdom and a hero. It’s also an authentic blueprint of how the best managers in the best businesses in our country get the job done.”
—Charlotte L. Beers, former chairman and CEO of Ogilvy & Mather
“Honest and insightful, Arthur Martinez’s inside story of the Sears turnaround is an important read. He paints a picture of the challenges faced by the contemporary CEO: remaining true to a great brand’s core values, dealing with culture shock in a proud organization, addressing the implications of a changing consumer and fast-moving competition.”
—Paul R. Charron, chairman and CEO of Liz Claiborne, Inc.
“The Hard Road to the Softer Side describes well what can happen when one combines the leader’s genuine concern for the customer with a dedicated team and great locations. Martinez transformed Sears from a laggard to a leader once again.”
—Walter Y. Elisha, former CEO of Springs Industries
“Arthur Martinez’s Sears saga makes a powerful point: meaningful and relevant brands and companies should never die. This is the most insightful, educative business case history I have ever read.”
—Peter A. Georgescu, chairman emeritus of Young & Rubicam, Inc.
“As a retail leader, Arthur Martinez showed a passion for the business. He says he did not save Sears, that the company's employees did. But this book demonstrates the important contribution his passionate leadership made to the transformation. Others can learn much from his experience.”
—Allen Questrom, chairman and CEO of JCPenney
Arthur C. Martinez was chairman and CEO of Sears, Roebuck and Company from 1995 to 2000 and chairman and CEO of its retail arm, Sears Merchandise Group from 1992 to 1995. Prior to Sears, he was vice chairman at Saks Fifth Avenue, where he worked in various senior positions for 12 years.
Charles Madigan is the Sunday perspective editor of the Chicago Tribune and a Tribune senior writer. He is also coauthor of the business bestseller Dangerous Company, and he collaborated on Lessons from the Heart of American Business by Gerald Greenwald, former chairman and CEO of United Airlines.
Upgrade to the Flash 9 viewer for enhanced content, including the ability to browse & search through your favorite titles.
Click here to learn more!