This list is a snapshot of a broader study by executive search firm Spencer Stuart, which is trying to draw a correlation between ceo backgrounds and retail performance. Is there a link between education level or career path and the top executive suite? For the ceo’s of the 10 highest-volume chains, an MBA is not a prerequisite, but the executives here have at least an undergraduate degree and most worked their way up through the department store ranks. Nor is an Ivy League education necessary for success in retailing. In the old days, a degree from the A&S training program, considered the Harvard of the industry, was the best credential around.
- H. LEE SCOTT, WAL-MART STORES INC.
Volume: $246.5 billion; Tenure: 4 years; College degrees: BS in business from Pittsburgh State University, Pittsburg, Kan.
Route up: operations to merchandising
Scott came up through the operations ranks before moving into merchandising, and Wal-Mart’s operations are the envy of other retailers. Scott, whose early positions in the company included transportation director, vice president of distribution and senior vice president of logistics, knows the value of supply chain management.
- ROBERT ULRICH, TARGET CORP.
Volume: $44 billion; Tenure: 10 years; College degrees: BA from University of Minnesota; MBA from Stanford University
Route up: store operations to merchandising
Ulrich is credited with putting together the team that catapulted the Target chain into a national force. But success has been more difficult for the company’s department stores, Marshall Field’s and Mervyn’s. Both chains have been a drag on the company and are now on the selling block.
- ALAN LACY, SEARS, ROEBUCK & CO.
Volume: $41.3 billion; Tenure: 4 years; College degrees: BS in industrial management from Georgia Tech; MBA from Emory University
Route up: planning to development to finance
Lacy, who was chief financial officer, president of credit and senior vice president of finance earlier in his career, sold Sears’ lucrative credit business to concentrate on its department stores. The company is still in the midst of its transformation, which relies heavily on strong apparel sales. The category, however, was down in the low-single digits and contributed to a significant loss in the first quarter.
- ALLEN QUESTROM, J.C. PENNEY CO.
Volume: $32.3 billion; Tenure: 4 years; College degrees: BS in finance and marketing from Boston University
Route up: merchandising
As ceo of Federated Department Stores, Allen Questrom pulled the company from the pit of bankruptcy, and helped engineer the biggest department store merger in history with R.H. Macy & Co. He retired from Federated in 1997, but couldn’t stay out of the game too long, becoming ceo of Barneys New York in 1999. He’s a merchant at heart who loves a big-picture challenge. And he has that at Penney’s, where he’s trying to redefine the store with a private label push and with younger brands such as Bisou Bisou and Parallel.
- JULIAN DAY, KMART CORP.
Volume: $31 billion; Tenure: 1 year; College degrees: BS in business from Oxford University; MBA from London Business School
Route up: finance and sales
Never mind that U.K.-born Julian Day came up through the ranks in finance and sales, when Kmart’s chief merchant resigned shortly after the company exited bankruptcy in 2003, Day temporarily assumed those responsibilities. Kmart turned in its first profitable quarter in three years for the fourth quarter ended Jan. 28. Day now wants to improve sourcing, assortments and store presentation with the help of two Gap veterans who’ll fill the merchandising void.
- TERRY LUNDGREN, FEDERATED DEPARTMENT STORES INC.
Volume: $15 billion; Tenure: 1 year; College degrees: BA from the University of Arizona
Route up: merchandising
The affable Lundgren is a strong administrator and marketer and a creative merchant. Lundgren, who was named chairman of Federated in December, is considered a protégé of Penney’s Questrom. The two men worked together when Questrom ran Federated. Lundgren’s mantra is differentiating stores through unique merchandise and improving the shopping experience. The strategy is paying off. First-quarter profits released yesterday more than doubled.
- PAUL PRESSLER, GAP INC.
Volume: $14.5 billion; Tenure: 2 years; College degrees: BS in economics from the State University of New York at Oneonta
Route up: marketing
Under Pressler, who’s raised the profile of the once-anonymous design teams, the company’s brands, Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic, are more differentiated than they were. After three years of posting negative same-store sales, Gap Inc. reported a 9.9 percent increase in 2003. While there was some skepticism about whether the former head of Disney’s global theme parks and resorts could find his way through the fashion thicket, Pressler’s understanding of how to appeal to a broad audience has come in handy.
- GENE KAHN, MAY DEPARTMENT STORES
Volume: $13.5 billion; Tenure: 6 years; College degrees: BA in political science from City College of New York
Route up: merchandising
Kahn aggressively pursued small acquisitions such as bridal stores early in his tenure, but his biggest buy might be yet to come: May is said to be in the running for Marshall Field’s. Kahn’s challenge is fine-tuning the merchandising strategies of May’s five regional nameplates and Lord & Taylor, which shed 32 stores. Kahn also is rolling out a smaller store prototype with more room for apparel and accessories, wider aisles and products grouped by age or lifestyle.
- LARRY MONTGOMERY, KOHL’S
Volume: $9.1 billion; Tenure: 5 years; College degrees: BS in mathematics from Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Mich.
Route up: merchandising to store operations
Montgomery answered Wall Street’s demands for growth, but stumbled when weakness in moderate apparel contributed to an 8.1 percent profit loss in 2003. The company continues to move ahead with a store expansion in several new markets.
- LESLIE WEXNER, LIMITED BRANDS INC.
Volume: $8.4 billion; Tenure: 41 years; College degrees: BS from Ohio State University
Route up: company founder
Wexner has a keen eye for marketing. What could be a more brilliant publicity ploy than having scantily clad supermodels vamp their way down a runway? From the first Limited store, which opened in 1963, he’s tapped market niches with chains such as Express and Bath & Body Works and made vertical integration a key to the company’s success. Wexner was one of the first to recognize the potential of turning stores into brands.
Sources: Spencer Stuart, a privately held global executive search firm, from Spencer Stuart’s retail practice: other information: original reporting.