"That's Mark," she said.
But an unflinching look at its business might be warranted at Sears, which Mr. Cohen is trying to reinvent. His task: to harness the power of the Sears brand -- and its $1 billion-plus ad budget -- to reflect the stores' low prices, convenience and scope of products. He even hopes to give Sears a more youthful, cool image.
'BACK TO THE FUTURE'
So the $41 billion company is going "back to the future," as Mr. Cohen put it, using the trusted Sears brand to take the company into a new age of retailing with the tagline "The good life at a great price. Guaranteed."
Its forward push also will involve a major presence on the Internet, Mr. Cohen said. But he indicated that Sears, unlike some dot.coms, will need to make money on the Net quickly.
That's a perspective born of wide retailing experience.
STARTING AS A 'STOCK BOY'
After graduating with an engineering degree and an MBA from Columbia University, Mr. Cohen grabbed a job to tide him over. He became an intern -- "actually a glorified stock boy," he said -- at Abraham & Strauss.
In a sector led by "merchant princes" and where stature is based on fashion intuition, Mr. Cohen found his training in systems analysis of surprising value.
"When I got to A&S, anyone who could add, subtract and read a spreadsheet" went far, he said.
Subsequently, he worked with Dayton Hudson Corp., Lord & Taylor and The Gap, eventually rising to the top of two Federated Department Stores units: Goldsmith's and Lazarus.
From 1994 to 1996, Mr. Cohen was chairman-CEO of Bradlees, a troubled regional discounter in the Northeast that he attempted to move into a fashion-based model competitive with Target Stores.
He joined Sears in January 1998, heading up soft-lines merchandising, and when former exec VP-marketing John Costello left at the end of that year, Mr. Cohen was named to replace him.
A NEW PARADIGM
Soon after, he created something of a new paradigm for clients with multiple ad agencies.
Mr. Cohen forced his two shops -- Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, primarily handling Sears' auto business, and Y&R Advertising, Chicago and New York, the agency for soft lines -- to work together to develop Sears' new marketing platform.
When he first saw Y&R's TV campaign touting its Benneton-branded merchandise, Mr. Cohen said he didn't get it.
The Y&R executives applauded that, noting that if Mr. Cohen, at 50, understood the effort, it wouldn't play well to teens.
"When we get it right, people will grant us that [coolness]," Mr. Cohen said.