SCH’s Edward Lampert Looks for Normalcy in an Abnormal Business Environment

I just can’t accept that the vast majority of business professionals I run into these days believe that today’s economic environment is normal. I have a hard time believing that these people have not read a newspaper, looked at a declining investment portfolio or a 401(k), or that their companies have not been even slightly jolted by the worst financial conditions in anyone’s memory (or longer).

Given all this, I have enormous respect for other credentialed professionals and their great command, knowledge and skill, but most people’s functional expertise, their industry expertise, and their range of experiences tend to be most suited for normalcy.

My particular industry-interest, if you will, is Volatility. There aren’t many of us out there who have this expressed interest and I invite another business to take advantage of someone who produces results in these circumstances as a matter of routine. I offer a track record of achievement in “undermining volatility” across a range of industries for a quarter century. My normalcy is high achievement when there is abnormalcy.

On that note, I was completely inspired by Edward Lampert’s incredible annual letter to Sears Holdings Corporation (SHC)’s shareholders earlier this year (you can read it here on He told it like it is and did not pull any punches. Perhaps that’s why Mr Lampert is who he is and why SHC is likely to overcome its challenges…as long as his organization can truly respond to his challenges and execute in line with his directives. In his letter Mr Lampert invites those who believe they can contribute to SHC’s success to contact him. At the exact time I was reading this I was also having my own Sears experience as a consumer, and it got me thinking:

I live in Connecticut, but we also have a NY condo I stay at 1 or 2 nights a week to cut a 1 ¼ hour commute into 18 minutes from Manhattan. My daughter is getting her masters at Columbia University so she is living at the apartment fulltime. Unfortunately, sometime in December one of us broke the microwave oven…which was originally purchased from Sears. She called Sears service to have a technician come and repair it…service is one of Sears’ greatest value points.

For 6 consecutive Saturday’s Sears arranged to send a technician to the condo. For 6 consecutive Saturday’s they called mid-afternoon to inform her the tech was too busy and would be unable to make it to the apartment. So already the Sears value proposition is undermined.

On the 7th Saturday the service guy came, looked at the microwave and said it would cost $450 to fix. Clearly, a dumb idea to spend $450 to fix something we could buy for roughly the same amount. So the technician gave her coupons, one for $75 that could be applied against a purchase of a new microwave from Sears to offset the cost of their service call, and the other a 20% coupon to buy a new appliance. I picked up these coupons when I stayed at our condo last Wednesday (3/4). On Saturday 3/7 my wife and I went to the Sears store in the closest mall to our house in CT.

The store clerk was a very nice and helpful man, but when he saw these coupons he had no idea what to do with them. He acknowledged we could only buy an appliance in their store (not from a Sears service technician), but said he didn’t think the store could honor these coupons because they came from service. So he went and got his manager who was equally perplexed. That manager brought over another manager and the 3 of them, along with my wife, spent the next 45 minutes or so trying to solve this incredible problem…which they couldn’t (the best suggestion was: buy a microwave in the store, then send a letter to corporate attaching the coupons and hope they would send us a rebate).

Now, mind you, this was taking place at the exact same time Circuit City—with a store ¼ mile away—was liquidating their inventory, including microwaves. And since every other store knew people were going to buy Circuit City going out of business merchandise many were offering “we will match any Circuit City price” or other discounts. Sears? They chewed up my time and couldn’t figure out how to handle their own coupons from a couple that was intent on buying only from them!

This all brought me back to the concepts of normalcy, abnormalcy, volatility, and Mr Lampert’s stated intentions. A typical employee who wants the job, needs the job, will do anything and everything (s)he can to never let stories like my Sears service and shopping experience surface because the potential for getting “in trouble” far outweighs potential gain for fixing problems. I submit that Mr Lampert (in fact for anyone else serious about winning in the disturbed business climate) will find the talent he seeks by recruiting professionals that bring the added benefit of not caring about politics, turf, CYA, or anything else a traditional employee is most conscious of. He wants people up to his challenge, with a track record of results, with transferrable skills AND one who won’t let the typical bs get in the way. From my own experience, the professionals he seeks are looking to achieve greatness, not find jobs.

Leave a Reply