By and  on December 6, 2005

NEW YORK — Sears, Roebuck is seeking some high-powered talent.

The $55 billion retailer said Monday it is seeking a chief merchant and new leaders for its apparel business. A top apparel merchant, Gwen Manto, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for softlines, has left to join Dick's, the sports retailer (see related story on page 12).

The company also said it centralized its merchandising divisions "to increase efficiency and effectiveness." The company has struggled for years with its apparel business and has fared better in hardlines. Its best-known apparel labels include Lands' End, Jaclyn Smith, Joe Boxer, Apostrophe and Covington.

Dan Laughlin, senior vice president and gmm for home for Sears, Roebuck has been named senior vice president, merchandising for Sears Holdings Corp., which includes Sears and Kmart. Laughlin will lead the hardlines businesses for Sears and Kmart and oversee merchandising for Sears, Roebuck.

Peter Whitsett, senior vice president and Kmart merchandising officer, will lead the general merchandising for Sears and Kmart and continue to oversee merchandising for Kmart.

The apparel businesses of Sears and Kmart will report to Laughlin and Whitsett, respectively. The two executives report to the chairman Edward S. Lampert, until a chief merchant for Sears Holdings is appointed.

Roger Detter, senior vice president and gmm of hardlines for Sears, Roebuck will retire at the end of the month after 33 years with the company.

Sears Holdings also said it wants to acquire all of the outstanding common shares of Sears Canada, based in Toronto, in a transaction valued at $718.5 million. Sears already owns nearly 58 million shares of common stock, or 53.8 percent, of Sears Canada. The price represents an 8.7 percent premium over Friday's closing price, which was 34.10 Canadian dollars, or $29.47 at current exchange. It's also a 22.2 percent premium over the average closing price since Aug. 31, the day Sears Canada said it entered into an agreement to sell its credit and financial services business, Sears Holdings said. The credit card portfolio business was recently sold to J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

Following the transaction, Sears Canada would become a wholly owned subsidiary of Sears Holdings.The company has entered into a lockup agreement with Natcan Investment Management, which has agreed to tender its holdings of nearly 9.7 million common shares, or 9.1 percent of the outstanding shares of Sears Canada.

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