The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears by Donald Katz

Summary
  1. Katz describes the rise and fall of Sears and the men who helped revolutionize it when it was on the brink of disaster
Key Takeaways
  1. Ed Telling had to work through college to pay for tuition but he did it and ended up marrying the love of his life, Nancy
  2. Ed worked his way up through the Sears organization and quickly became Dead set against the decentralization process where HQ made decisions from afar without knowing the true situation. They knew the map but not the terrain
  3. There is no correlation between time spent on something and it’s productiveness. My most productive meetings are spent roaming the halls
  4. You can’t structure around a problem
  5. Ed got rid of the head of the Midwest and sought to bring someone from outside the company, outside the system, who had fresh eyes and could serve as an agent for change
  6. Moran became de facto head of merchandising and could draw on his deep knowledge of eastern culture to effectively deal with Telling. Telling rarely gave a direct order but hinted and suggested at what he wanted
  7. In the mid 1970s, Sears lost its way due to the sin of arrogance. They were not effectively serving customers and were wholly focused on hitting their quarterly numbers
  8. For some time, the interest rates charged to Sears were 11%, making every sale a loss and forcing them to borrow up to $400m per day
  9. Telling was a very forceful, vocal and harsh boss. He often shifted people around through seeming promotions but in fact was just moving them aside. By the time he realized his harsh and “management by mystery” tactics weren’t working, it was too late. He had alienated too many people and was all alone
  10. Changed certain metrics to get the changes they wanted as it allowed people to “kill sacred cows” and act in previously unacceptable ways due to tradition. By focusing on hours rather than number of salesman, They were able to get rid of underperforming but politically savvy salesmen
  11. Much dispute between the “Sears is one big store” mentality and the “each one is its local community’s store.” Centralization and consistency vs pleasing local tastes
  12. The Sears leadership put a huge focus on efficiency and technology. Their scale meant that every penny or minute saved would lead to millions of dollars and thousands of hours when extrapolated company-wide
  13. Funny recounting of how every level of management put the blame on “them” but one manager eventually found out there is no “they.” They are us. There was no ownership
  14. Telling began thinking of how Sears could begin operating more like a bank as they were already one of the largest financial institutions in the US due to loans and insurance. Focus groups indicated that hundreds of thousands of people may open brokerage accounts if it was associated with a trustworthy brand like Sears. Sears soon acquired Coldwell Banker. The vision was for Sears to become the “chassis for the American consumer’s material life” – becoming central to every purchase and transaction they were making, from hardware to mortgage to securities to credit cards
  15. Don’t “study things to death.” Be action oriented. They decided to spend millions experimenting with new stores and display concepts. They sought to make the most modern one shopping store in the world. No more haggling with dozens of different stores.
  16. Edward Brennan eventually became CEO and where Telling was quick and offered no explanations for how he acted, Brennan was slow, deliberate and methodical.
  17. Purcell believed that every great empire builder tried to tear down what they’ve built before they died or were forced out
  18. The main source of demoralization within Sears was the pace. People cannot endure for long the tenor of revolutionary tasks. People eventually lose the ardor they feel for a cause once the charismatic leader steps away
  19. The company Bill Bass inherited from Brennan was just exhausted. “We’ve just been working them too hard. The people will be able to talk freely with me and know they have the freedom to talk. It’s not really about how hard you work people which is making them exhausted, but the lack of recognition.” Bass had morale whereas Brennan did not, he had a destiny
  20. “Don’t worry,” Brennan said, “no one person can ruin Sears. We’ve all tried, and we’ve all failed.”
What I got out of it
  1. Good summary of Sears’ history, rise, fall and revolution. Older book so doesn’t have the most up to date info but good background
  2. Pair with this article comparing Sears and Amazon