Maureen McGuire

Sears Holdings Corp.

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Photo: Dan Sjostrom
The phone call from Sears Holdings Corp. Chairman Edward Lampert came as a surprise.

Mr. Lampert and Maureen McGuire had never met, but she'd earned a reputation for her work turning around the IBM brand, and that's exactly what Mr. Lampert had in mind in 2005 for the ailing Sears and Kmart brands.

"The opportunity was so fascinating," Ms. McGuire says. "Here are really great iconic American brands that were [struggling]. We needed to put some luster on them and bring them back into the 21st century. ... I felt like I had experience doing that."

So Ms. McGuire left a 30-year career at IBM Corp. to become chief marketing officer of Sears Holdings. Ms. McGuire, who got her start as a bilingual secretary in IBM's executive suite -- she speaks French, Spanish, Italian and German to varying degrees -- never planned to be a marketer, believing she was better-suited to shaping young minds than billion-dollar brands. But those who've worked with her beg to differ.

"Maureen understands the power of brands," says Shelly Lazarus, chairman-CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, which handles IBM. "She understands that you have to define what a brand is and then invest in building the brand."

Since joining Sears Holdings, Ms. McGuire has been carefully cultivating each of the retailer's nameplates. She's reshaped the marketing organization, naming CMOs at Sears, Sears Home and Kmart, as well as a senior VP-customer relationship marketing and a VP-marketing services.

Ms. McGuire has also looked back in an effort to move the brands forward, introducing The Sears Book -- a throwback to the much-loved Sears catalog -- and Mr. Bluelight, a nod to Kmart's famous blue-light specials.

But it's no secret that Sears Holdings is still struggling. "It's a tough market out there now, but we like the direction that we're going and the emphasis on some of the new and emerging forms of marketing media," says Bruce Johnson, interim CEO at Sears Holdings. "Maureen's industry and nonretail experience have brought some fresh thinking to our marketing organization. ... She's really getting us into the modern age."

Ms. McGuire also feels the company is making inroads but admits the job Mr. Lampert brought her on to do is far from complete.

"Creating brand positioning for each of these brands and making sure the company stays true to them, that's really building the foundation," she says. "We're very pleased with the beginning of the results, but I honestly believe this is just the beginning."
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