Sears Holdings Corp. named James Haworth executive vice president and president of retail services, tapping an operations specialist who was widely reported to have been dismissed from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in 2004 for violating unspecified “well-known company rules.”

This story first appeared in the January 13, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Haworth succeeds Kevin Holt, who is leaving the firm, and will oversee operations at Sears and Kmart and also serve on the internal holding company business unit board. He begins Jan. 31 and will report to the internal retail services board.

Haworth spent two decades at Wal-Mart and was executive vice president and chief operating officer when he left under a cloud in December 2004. He founded a consulting firm the following year and most recently was chairman, president and chief executive officer of Chia Tai Enterprises International Ltd. & CP Lotus, an investment firm operating one-stop shopping centers in China.

“He brings a wealth of global retail experience, demonstrated success in retail operations, merchandising and strategic planning along with a great understanding of how to create lasting relationships with customers,” said Bruce Johnson, interim ceo and president of Sears Holdings.

In an e-mail to WWD, a spokesman added Sears conducts thorough background checks on new hires and looked into the reports surrounding Haworth’s departure from Wal-Mart. “We became very comfortable that there was no reason for concern,” said the spokesman. “Mr. Haworth is a deeply seasoned and experienced executive with more than 20 years of retailing experience.”

Robert F. Buchanan, an assistant professor at Saint Louis University who covered Wal-Mart during his 24 years as an equity analyst, called Haworth “an outstanding operator” who helped Wal-Mart “hit on all cylinders” during his tenure.

Under chairman Edward Lampert, Sears “looks like they’re a survivor now,” said Buchanan. “I really think they’ve earned the right to grow again.” Lampert, he continued, is “basically running a convenience discount store. He’s taking advantage of his locations. The stores don’t look pretty, necessarily; the inventory’s certainly lighter than it has been in years past, but he’s stocking some items of need for a store that is maybe several miles from a Wal-Mart, so I think his strategy makes sense.”

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