One of the sources said that Mulally, who is due to retire from Ford
in July, was left with the impression that Lampert was gauging
whether Mulally might be open to the possibility of becoming Sears'
next CEO. The second source said Lampert, who is currently Sears'
chairman and CEO, did not offer Mulally a job and there is no search
process underway for a new CEO.
Lampert , who is a billionaire hedge fund manager, flew to Dearborn,
Michigan, where Ford is headquartered, in either February or March
to meet Mulally, the sources said.
In the meeting, Lampert asked Mulally about how he had turned around
Ford and built an effective management structure at the No. 2 U.S.
automaker, the sources said.
Sears <SHLD.O> spokesman Howard Riefs declined to comment. Ford
spokeswoman Susan Krusel said Mulally, 68, has not decided what to
do after leaving Ford.
Sears operates 1,900 Sears and Kmart discount chain stores in the
United States. It was once the largest U.S. retailer by revenue, but
has seen sales weaken consistently over recent years in the face of
stiff competition from brick-and-mortar rivals such as Target Corp <TGT.N>,
Wal-Mart Stores Inc <WMT.N> and Home Depot Inc <HD.N>, as well as
online retailers like Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O>.
It would be a surprise if Mulally, who is seen as one of the most
successful manufacturing executives in recent American history,
considered joining Sears. Ford came out of the financial crisis much
better than its U.S. rivals General Motors Co <GM.N> and Chrysler
Group LLC <CHRY.UL>, who both went into bankruptcy and had to be
rescued by the U.S. government. He came to Ford after running Boeing
Coís <BA.N> commercial plane business.
Mulally has become one of the most sought after executives in
corporate America. He has signed non disclosure agreements with
several companies to talk about possible leadership roles, one of
the sources said. The names of the companies could not be learned.
Reuters has previously reported that he was also considered for the
top job at Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O>, who eventually appointed insider
Satya Nadella to the position. It is not clear how close Mulally
came to being picked as the technology giant's CEO.
Lampert's meeting with Mulally also underscores the intractable
problem facing big box U.S. retailers, such as Sears. They have
struggled to find chief executives who have the experience and
skills essential to running a modern retailer.
Recruiters and directors said candidates either do not have
e-commerce expertise or they lack experience running retail store
chains. So boards are turning to executives from other industries or
those with restructuring experience, such as Mulally.
"The issue isn't that there aren't some great people there," said
Bobbie Lenga, global retail practice leader at Chicago-based
headhunters Russell Reynolds Associates. "It is more of an issue
that there aren't that many of them, and that many of them are at a
point where they are deciding in their career what they want to do
next - if they want to keep going in the industry or move on."
[to top of second column]
"It is a very finite talent pool, and you always hear the same names
being brought up for all these roles," Lenga added.
Recruiters and directors said those names include HSN Inc <HSNI.O>
CEO Mindy Grossman, Bon-Ton Stores Inc <BONT.O> CEO Brendan Hoffman,
Ralph Lauren Corp <RL.N> former president Roger Farah, and Apple
Incís <AAPL.O> retail head Angela Ahrendts, who was formerly
Burberry Group PLC's CEO.
Spokespeople for HSN, Bon-Ton, and Ralph Lauren declined to comment
on behalf of Grossman, Hoffman and Farah. Apple was not available
BUILDING A BENCH
Lampert took over the CEO role early last year after Lou D'Ambrosio
stepped down after just two years with Sears, citing family health
While D'Ambrosio was seen as having technology experience that could
help shape Sears' online business, serving as CEO of network
equipment maker Avaya and spending 16 years at IBM Corp <IBM.N>, he
lacked previous retail experience.
Under Lampert, Sears has focused on building an internal bench of
talent, its spokesman Riefs said.
Such hires include Arun Arora, who leads Sears home services
business and was previously general manager of global e-commerce for
Staples Inc <SPLS.O>; William Hutchinson who was brought over from
Dell Inc to head up Sears' supply chain business unit; and Norman
Miller, who was president and COO of Dollar Financial Corp and is
now responsible for Sears' automotive business.
"The leadership of Sears Holdings is committed to the company's
successful transformation and they are excited about the momentum
underway," Riefs said in an emailed statement. "It's also important
to know that succession planning is a critical point of focus for
any company and at Sears Holdings it's a continuous discipline."
(Additional reporting by Deepa Seetharaman in San Francisco and
Olivia Oran in New York; Editing by Paritosh Bansal and Martin
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