The Chase for Castagna: Ex-Penney's Executive Said to Be in Kmart Talks

Financier-turned-retailer Eddie Lampert is trying to lure Vanessa Castagna into his realm.

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At Sears, Castagna could work on refocusing its apparel offerings, as well as taking on the responsibility of merging the Sears and Kmart Holding Co. operations. In the combined company, which will be known as Sears Holding Corp., Lampert, who is currently chairman of Kmart Holding Corp., will become chairman, and his firm, ESL Investments, will hold a 42 percent stake in the new group.

One potential roadblock is that Castagna is more interested in filling a ceo spot, sources said, rather than being just a chief merchant.

So far, the top spot isn’t available at Sears Holding. Alan J. Lacy, chairman and ceo of Sears, Roebuck and Co., will become vice chairman and ceo of Sears Holding. Aylwin B. Lewis, president and ceo of Kmart, will become president and ceo of Sears Retail.

On the other hand, the open position at Office Depot, while it carries the ceo title, might not be the one that Castagna had in mind. One executive recruiter in New York said that, while Castagna has the merchandising and executive skills that are translatable to turning around a nonapparel operation, the issues inherent in the office supply chain’s operation have made it difficult for the retailer to find someone willing to take on the challenge.

Since leaving Penney’s on Nov. 14, Castagna has been busy exploring opportunities and examining different offers, one source familiar with the situation said. She has been contacted by both big and small retailers in need of talent, as well as by investor groups, the source added.

When Castagna left Penney’s, she said it was “an intense and a difficult decision, but the time is right.”

Ken Hicks, president and chief operating officer of stores and merchandise operations at Penney’s, took on Castagna’s responsibilities as a transitional step, the company said last month. Ullman, who took the helm from Questrom last week, held top executive spots at LVMH, the DFS Group and Macy’s.

“I’m not surprised that [Castagna’s] phone is ringing off the hook. She is a very accomplished merchant and a great executive,” said Hal Reiter, chairman and ceo of executive recruiting firm Herbert Mines.
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