NEW YORK — Succession planning at Sears, Roebuck & Co. took a new twist Wednesday, with the chain’s announcement that a search firm, Heidrick & Struggles, has been hired to find a new chief executive before the end of the year.
Speculation that Arthur Martinez, chairman and chief executive, would leave the company sooner than expected began last September, when top management was restructured. Robert Mettler was removed as president, Martinez’s control over the organization and the number of executives reporting to him were narrowed, and two non-merchants, Alan J. Lacy and Julian C. Day, were elevated, positioning them as possible contenders to succeed Martinez.
Lacy, president of Sears Credit, added responsibilities as president of Services, leading the home services and e-commerce businesses. Day, chief financial officer, was named to the new position of executive president and chief operating officer for finance, logistics and information technology. They are still considered ceo contenders, but with a search firm now assisting Sears, picking an outsider is a strong possibility.
Martinez led a remarkable turnaround of Sears during the Nineties by shutting down unprofitable stores, eliminating the giant Sears catalog and pumping up the store’s apparel business with the potent “softer side of Sears” advertising campaign. However, through the turnaround, Sears ran into several costly legal problems involving its automotive and credit businesses. Also, in the past year, sales at Sears stores have weakened, and a deal to sell exclusive Benetton merchandise collapsed.

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