Sears’ top marketing officer Gerstein resigns

Posted April 29, 2010 at 4:04 p.m.

By Sandra M. Jones | Sears Holdings Corp. is in search of a marketing chief, again.

The company’s senior vice president of marketing Richard Gerstein resigned this week, the Tribune has learned. Gerstein is the second top marketing officer to leave the operator of Sears and Kmart stores since investor Edward Lampert took control of the company five years ago.

Gerstein was hired as chief marketing officer for the Sears Roebuck division in July 2007, and was promoted to senior vice president of marketing for the combined companies a year later, when then-chief marketing officer Maureen McGuire resigned.

Gerstein’s last day will be May 7, said Kimberly Freely, a Sears spokeswoman.

Under Gerstein’s tenure, Sears ran a corporate ad campaign called “Life. Well Spent” and bolstered its core appliance business with “Sears Blue Crew,” a blue-shirted team of delivery and repair workers that appeared in TV commercials. Gerstein joined Sears after a career in consumer products marketing, most recently as global chief marketing officer at Alberto Culver Beauty and before that in various marketing posts at Proctor & Gamble Co.

McGuire held the chief marketing officer post from 2005 to 2008, after a 30-year career at IBM Corp. Sears hasn’t had an executive with the CMO title since McGuire left.

Scott Freidheim, executive vice president of the operating and support businesses units, will lead the marketing unit until a permanent replacement is named, Freely said.

Sears has been operating without a permanent CEO since February 2008, when Lampert — Sears’ chairman and majority shareholder — named former supply chain and operations executive W. Bruce Johnson interim CEO and president.

Separately, Moody’s Investors Service on Thursday raised the outlook on Sears’ long-term debt to “positive,” from “stable,” reflecting in part the “good performance” at Sears Canada Inc. and Kmart and the recent steps to “monetize the value of Sears’ proprietary brands” by selling Craftsman and DieHard products outside of Sears stores.

Last week, Sears moved a step closer to taking Sears Canada private when it agreed to buy Pershing Square Capital Management LP’s 17 percent stake in the Canadian company. The purchase, valued at $550 million, brings Sears’ stake to just over 90 percent. In 2006, Pershing Square, the hedge fund owned by activist investor William Ackman, thwarted Sears Holdings’ attempt to buy the then 46 percent of Sears Canada it didn’t already own, saying the bid was too low. Sears current offer of $30 Canadian dollars is more than two-thirds higher than its 2006 bid.

Sears Canada accounts for $1.3 billion of the total $1.7 billion in cash Sears Holdings had as of Jan. 30, according to Sears’ annual report filed last month.

Kmart, for its part, saw its sales at stores open at least one year, a key retail metric, climb 3.2 percent in the first quarter through April 21, the company said last week. Same-store sales at U.S. Sears locations in the same timeframe rose 0.3 percent. Sears’ quarter ends May 1.

Sears holds its annual shareholder meeting Tuesday at its Hoffman Estates headquarters. The event marks one of the rare occasions Lampert speaks publicly to investors.


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