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TheStreet Open House

One CEO Belongs in the Outhouse, Another in the Penthouse

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I love TheStreet's Brian Sozzi. In fact, he might be the most refreshing mind/personality on Wall Street. In fact, Sozzi alone more than justifies the cost of a Real Money subscription. Dig a free 14-day trial and you'll see what I mean.

However, for a moment, I thought Sozzi had lost his mind on Starbucks (SBUX).

When I saw him posting pictures of empty pastry displays at Starbucks' stores I was taken aback. Almost offended. Starbucks isn't Sears Holdings (SHLD).

While Sozzi might suggest I'm letting love and personal attraction get in the way of good sense, I, as somebody who has written about emotional investing in Apple (AAPL) at $700, disagree.

If there was ever a CEO beyond reproach, it's Howard Schultz at Starbucks.

I'll broadcast what actually is -- thankfully -- a sensible take on SBUX from Sozzi at the end of this article, but first let's compare statements from Schultz and his (apologies if you spit your drink through your nose when you read this) peer Sears CEO Eddie Lampert.

Starting with Lampert, who, within the context of ranking corporate leaders, belongs in the outhouse. Not just any old outhouse, but one of those germ-ridden portables they set up at state fairs or outdoor concerts. The kind where there's no toilet paper left after ...

Anyhow, here's a portion of what Lampert had to say the other day at the Sears corporate blog in a post with a title that would make a dog chase its tail -- Are the new ideas about how retail is changing really new?:

... we launched a major transformation of Sears and Kmart years ago because we saw then that people had fundamentally and permanently changed how they shop as a result of the internet, social networking and mobile devices ... we ... have invested such a high proportion of our companys resources into innovations like the Shop Your Way membership program and our buy online, pick up in store programs, which are the foundation of our Integrated Retail strategy.
When we were among the first to pioneer these ideas, many people outside of our company found them revolutionary. Many others questioned what we were doing. Today, changes like these are what people expect everywhere they shop.

If I could live in perpetual hallucination like that, I'd be set. In fact, I might invite Lampert to go shrooming with me this weekend.

On the flip side, here's some rhetoric (using the term to mean art form, not hollow, unpersuasive B.S.), from Schultz:

Holiday 2013 was the first in which many traditional brick-and-mortar retailers experienced in-store foot traffic give way to online shopping in a major way ... As our solid traffic growth and record Q1 results demonstrate, Starbucks unique combination of physical and digital assets positions us as one of the very few consumer brands with a national and global footprint to benefit from the seismic shift underway.

If you pay any attention to retail at all -- and, clearly, Lampert thinks you don't -- you immediately notice the striking contextual and intellectual distinctions between the two sets of statements.

Shop Your Way has been -- and I think we can clarify this as an objective statement -- a failure.

Did it ever dawn on Lampert that riding the hind end of trends set by other companies, particularly Amazon.com (AMZN), might not be the proper way forward for Sears? That it's simply not the tonic necessary to revive the pathetic sector of retail Sears has played a major role in decimating. That, if it hasn't worked after all of this time, maybe it's not as forward-looking, innovative and "revolutionary" as he thinks it is.

Meantime, Starbucks devised and has, with wild success, implemented truly impressive efforts that have been in the works for a while. So when Schultz speaks of an "inflection point" in retail today, don't be fooled -- he was thinking about it, really hard, yesterday. But he wasn't merely thinking, he was acting accordingly. Crafting solutions appropriate for his company's set of potential problems.

The roots of Starbucks' mobile and digital efforts date back to 2008 -- at least -- and the efforts of its former CIO Stephen Gillett. Gillett brought Starbucks' current Chief Digital Officer, Adam Brotman, on board as the company's mobile efforts lifted off.

That's transformation. Innovation. Revolutionary.

Pardon my bluntness, Eddie Lampert, but be quiet. And I'll tell you to be quiet every day from now until you step down from a one-time national treasure and put somebody in charge who has a clue.

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