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Kmart is relying on outsiders to lead the charge for change.

The retailer last week hired Charles Chinni, 51, former president-merchandising for Macy's East, as exec VP-merchandising. He succeeds Joseph Thomas, 59, who will serve as an adviser until he retires in August.

Kmart Corp. also established a five-person executive "platform team," which includes Mr. Chinni; Kenneth Watson, exec VP-marketing and product development; and two other executives recently brought in from other retailers. The team will work on problems in areas such as merchandising, marketing, distribution and finance.

The moves signal that Kmart is depending on outside perspectives, including a new ad agency, to define itself in the marketplace.

Last week, agency finalists were briefed on the retailer's business strategy and given a creative assignment. A decision will be made next month. Incumbent Ross Roy Communications, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., isn't participating but is being considered for the account.

Finalists for the $175 million account include Campbell Mithun Esty, Minneapolis, and New York shops Ally & Gargano and BBDO Worldwide. N.W. Ayer & Partners dropped out last week.

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