Sears Holdings (SHLD - Get Report) mastermind Ed Lampert copped to missteps in his fashion department Tuesday but warned critics that their "so-called expert" opinions about his company usually have been wrong.
In a wide-ranging letter to shareholders that was filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Lampert, the usually taciturn hedge fund manager who merged Sears and Kmart last year, lampooned media critics who question his long-term strategy.
"I will not dwell here on the many instances where the 'conventional wisdom' -- for example, the view that Kmart would neither emerge from bankruptcy nor survive its first Christmas as a new company in 2003 -- has turned out to be only 'conventional' and not at all 'wisdom,'" Lampert wrote. "I will simply say that I am pleased with the progress we are making at Sears Holdings."
The comments accompanied a third-quarter financial report that showed same-store sales falling at both Sears and Kmart. Lampert conceded that "customers have not yet embraced the new, more fashion-forward brands" Sears rolled out in the quarter, and promised to fix the problem."Being a learning company also means appreciating frankness and being willing to recognize where our ideas have not played out as expected -- so that we can refine and change course," he wrote. Sears and Lampert have received increasingly hostile press in recent months as the stock has retreated from above $160 in July to a recent quote of around $120. Pundits, keying on Lampert's billion-dollar paycheck as manager of ESL Investments, have wondered whether his grand ambition of merging two struggling discount chains makes economic sense. "Although all the attention Sears Holdings is receiving is, in some fashion, flattering, I would caution you to approach much of what is written and said about us with an appropriate amount of healthy skepticism," Lampert wrote. "This is particularly so with respect to the loudest views, the most widely held views, or the so-called 'expert' views. For many commentators, analysts, and reporters, their success is dependent on the excitement or controversy generated by their articles -- not on the accuracy of their writing or of their predictions."