Searching for Saviors: Can Retailers Truly Find The Perfect Chief Exec?

NEW YORK — Allen Questrom’s charisma, Millard Drexler’s merchandising skills, Leslie Wexner’s thoughtfulness and Rose Marie...

And on the links, but having demonstrated the qualities a retail ceo should have:

David Farrell, May Co.: One of the best executors in the business, he immersed himself in the stores with his tough hands-on style, and got things done, even if it meant being in the stores at 2 a.m. During his tenure, May Co. spewed out sales and profit gains that were the envy of the industry. He set the trend for retail mergers, pulling off one of the first big ones when May Co. bought Associated Dry Goods in the mid-Eighties, getting Lord & Taylor in the process.

Ben Cammarata: A strong merchant who formerly ran TJX Cos., the nation’s largest off-pricer, where he executed one of the smoothest major retail mergers ever, combining Marshalls into T.J. Maxx and keeping the entire business on track for many years.

Arthur Martinez, former Sears ceo: A financial wiz, decisive and not afraid to bite the bullet; Martinez had Sears, Roebuck in full turnaround, and probably saved the business. When Sears started to slump again, he couldn’t hang onto his job.

Ira Neimark: Former chairman and ceo of Bergdorf Goodman and suitably dapper for the part, he falls into that merchant-showman category, who lived the business, made it his lifestyle and was connected to the community and accessible to the merchants.

Edward Finkelstein: Former Macy’s chairman, he was a true retail showroom, with a vision for creating new store concepts, including The Cellar and private fashion brands, and special events. But a leveraged buyout and some West Coast acquisitions put the business in bankruptcy and short-circuited his tenure.

Finkelstein may have gone down due to some strategic mistakes, but even less serious turnaround situations can take someone down these days. Shareholders and boards just aren’t as patient as they’ve been in the past.

"The time allotted for turnarounds has definitely gotten shorter," said Kathy C. Yohalem, a principal at Tait Advisory Services LLC. "There are a lot more metrics for success in place and methods for control, with milestones such as sales, earnings and return on investment, that these ceo’s are going to reach within certain periods of time. I don’t think anyone in the business world expects somebody to turn around a business in one quarter or two quarters, but there will be many more specific milestones put in place quarter by quarter to achieve at the end of 12 months what needs to be done. It’s about time. Things have been just a little bit too loose."
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