Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — Robert L. Mettler, who abruptly left Sears, Roebuck in a management shakeup last September, is seeking to become the top merchant at Macy’s West, sources said last week.
According to reports, Mettler, former president of merchandising at Sears full-line stores and one of the nation’s most respected retail executives, signed a non-compete agreement with Sears when he left the chain, limiting his options for future employment. He is said to be negotiating to get out of that agreement to join Macy’s West, a division of Federated Department Stores.
Mettler had no comment last Thursday.
If he gets the green light, he will become president of merchandising and the number-two executive at the San Francisco-based Macy’s West, according to sources. He will report to Jeremiah Sullivan, who, as previously noted in WWD, is expected to be promoted to chairman and chief executive officer next month, succeeding Michael Steinberg, who is retiring. Sullivan is currently president and chief operating officer.
The situation with Mettler presents an opportunity for Sears. It could exact certain concessions from rival Federated, such as a guarantee that Federated won’t raid the ranks of Sears for a period of time, in exchange for freeing up Mettler.
Mettler was ousted as president of merchandising for Sears full-line stores last September, amid poor sales results at the chain and concerns that Sears’ dramatic turnaround campaign of the Nineties was faltering. Mettler was an integral player in the turnaround.
He is considered a solid team player, well liked in the industry, someone who is not afraid to put in long hours on the job, and would be a major asset to Macy’s West, particularly in light of his familiarity with the West Coast market. He served as the chairman and ceo of May Department Stores Co.,’s Robinsons division in Los Angeles, prior to joining Sears in February 1993 as president of apparel and home fashions. He was elevated to president of merchandising in November 1996.
Mettler began his career as an assistant buyer for Jordan Marsh in 1962. He climbed the ranks and rose to president and ceo of the former Joske’s chain, president and ceo of L.S. Ayres, and in 1987 joined Robinsons as president and ceo.
Some retail observers said last week that taking the number-two Macy’s West job would be a step down for Mettler, considering Sears is a $41 billion national organization, while Macy’s West is a regional department store and about one-tenth the size of Sears. However, they also noted that Mettler could one day succeed Sullivan, who is around 60, or take another top position inside Federated.
When Mettler left Sears, Arthur Martinez, Sears chairman and chief executive officer, was put more directly in charge of repairing the full-line chain, and Sears created an office of the chief executive and named Mark Cohen president of soft lines.
Martinez and Mettler had led the Sears’ efforts to expand and renovate square footage for women’s merchandise and raise the profile of its proprietary apparel lines through the “softer side” campaign.

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