Sears' Martinez To Retire

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Sears CEO Arthur Martinez, who is credited with returning the nation's number-two retailer to profitability during his eight-year tenure, will step down by year's end.

Martinez, 60, had announced retirement plans earlier this year but this month led the effort to find a successor by hiring executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles International. The hunt is expected to take at least six months and indicates that Sears is also looking outside of its organization for a new chief executive.

The Brooklyn-born Martinez, who came to Sears from Saks Fifth Avenue, turned the moribund merchant around by slashing costs, closing unprofitable stores, spinning off non-core businesses, and repositioning the brand with the memorable "Softer Side of Sears" campaign.

More recently, he pushed the $41 billion business into the Internet age by launching sears.com, creating a business-to-business buying exchange with Carrefour and Oracle, forging a wide-ranging ISP pact with AOL, and creating a forthcoming website featuring home-improvement expert Bob Vila.

But his reign was also blemished by bad debt caused by the credit department's loose approval policies, and by the controversial closing of Sears' famous catalog, a money-losing operation that, in hindsight, may have proved an invaluable launch pad for the company's e-commerce strategy.

Moreover, as Sears still struggles to define itself in the marketplace, the merchant finds itself squeezed from below by deep discounters and savvy merchants such as Wal-Mart, The Home Depot and Target, and from above by more upscale department and specialty stores.

Martinez, who is completing a book about his career, said he plans to spend more time with his children. -- Alan Wolf

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