NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- After three grueling years of searching for a successor, Sears ( SHLD) has finally hired a new CEO -- a former tech executive with no retail experience. Lou D'Ambrosio, previously head of Avaya, a telecommunications company, succeeds Bruce Johnson, who had been operating as interim CEO since 2008. D'Ambrosio has been working with Sears over the past six months as a consultant to the board of directors on strategic and operational initiatives. >>Click here to take our Sears poll Prior to joining Avaya in 2002, D'Ambrosio spent 16 years at IBM ( IBM). With billionaire investor Eddie Lampert at the top, Sears has spent the last several years cutting costs, tightening inventory and operating under a managerial merry-go-round. Pretty much, Lampert has done everything but the action analysts have deemed necessary to improve the business: revamping its merchandise mix. Now, with a non-merchant at the helm, the question is, can Sears still revitalize its lackluster business? In a letter to investors, Lampert said D'Ambrosio is the right man for the job due to his "information and technology background, leadership style and experience in leading and transforming a Fortune 500 company." D'Ambrosio led Avaya as it went private, "delivering attractive returns to its shareholders," Lampert wrote. This could be interpreted that Lampert's real goal for Sears is to take the company private, not to bring it back to retail dominance. "Sears remains a once- iconic retailer heading downhill with nobody applying the brakes," says Craig Johnson, president at Customer Growth Partners. "They may have changed out the driver, but the back seat driver
Lampert -- who controls the brakes, gas, steering wheel and maintenance -- is staying the same." Johnson likens Sears' move to that of Home Depot ( HD) back in 2000, when the home improvement retailer appointed Bob Nardelli, a General Electric ( GE) and industrial executive, "into a fast-changing, consumer battle-place, hugely more competitive than the cozy world of enterprise selling, only to yield disappointing results and dispirited employees." Of course, D'Ambrosio's appointment could also be viewed as a push by Lampert to move Sears into the 21st Century. Sears has been heavily investing in its online business, a difficult task after being largely known for its catalog.
One such initiative has been the launch of a third-party marketplace where small businesses can sell through Sears.com. D'Ambrosio's extensive technology resume could be just the thing Sears needs to transform its online side of the business. But is that enough? Either way, it's clear D'Ambrosio has a massive task at hand. Sears once again reported a lower profit in its fourth quarter, as sales at its namesake chain plunged. During the three-month period the department store earned $374 million, or $3.43 a share, compared with $430 million, or $3.74 a share, in the year-ago period. Excluding items, Sears actually earned $3.67 a share, ahead of forecasts of $3.57. Sears hadn't reported a profit since its first quarter. Sears sales fell nearly 1% to $13.14 billion, but beat analysts' estimates of $12.97 billion. U.S. same-store sales slipped 1.5%, with namesake stores posting a 4.5% decline and the Kmart chain gaining 2.5%. Since Lampert combined Sears and Kmart back in 2005, the merged company has reported declining revenues every year. "Sears, once a retail colossus that dominated the American market through the first two-thirds of the 20th Century, remains the incredible shrinking giant, as its sales declined another 2% year-over-year in 2010," Johnson says. "It is bleeding market share to a resurgent Macy's ( M) and fast-growing Kohl's ( KSS) in home and apparel; to Lowe's ( LOW), Home Depot ( HD) and HH Gregg ( HGG) in hardlines, and to a host of new specialty stores that offer newness and excitement not seen in Eddie Lampert's tired and shopworn Kmart and Sears store fleet." Can D'Ambrosio turn around the flailing department store, or has Lampert made an even bigger mistake than the disappointing merger between Sears and Kmart? Take our poll and see what TheStreet readers are saying.
--Written by Jeanine Poggi in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jeanine Poggi. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/jpoggi. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: email@example.com.