Sears' Alan Lacy: From The Storeroom To The Store

What were they thinking? That's the response to news that Alan Lacy, 46, will take over as president and chief executive of Sears Roebuck when Arthur Martinez steps down on Oct. 1.

Lacy won praise for turning around Sears' ailing credit-card unit, which now accounts for 55% of operating income. Next he must persuade Main and Wall Streets that he can deliver on the floors of the aging store as he has in the back office. Says Skip Helm of the William Blair brokerage firm in Chicago: "I have a huge amount of respect for his financial abilities, but finance and credit is not its problem."

What is? Sears' marketing is widely criticized as uninspired, and management has lurched from strategy to strategy, selling off failed ideas such as freestanding furnishings stores. Overall sales of $41 billion a year have been virtually flat since 1997, and sales at stores open for more than 12 months rose at a meager 3.1% through August.

Lacy says he will be in "deep-dive mode" to learn about retailing.

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