Top-level turnover at Lands’ End

No one at Lands’ End or its parent company, Sears Holdings Corp., is talking about why president/CEO Mindy Meads and the Dodgeville, WI-based cataloger parted ways on Aug. 4. While some observers speculate that Meads left of her own accord, others insist that she was pushed out. “I know very few people who leave Sears voluntarily,” says a former Sears employee speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Generally people love working there, and it would be surprising that a person would simply get up and leave.”

Officially, all Sears would say is that David McCreight, formerly executive vice president of merchandising, international, and sourcing for Lands’ End, had replaced Meads on an interim basis. McCreight joined Lands’ End in December 2003; he was previously a senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Disney Stores Worldwide and president of garden accessories cataloger/retailer Smith & Hawken.

So what happened? Several published reports claimed that Meads had clashed with Sears over the direction of the Lands’ End brand, which it acquired in 2002 for $1.8 billion. While Sears had been selling some Lands’ End apparel in its stores with mixed success, some speculate that Meads left because she feared that Sears would begin selling Lands’ End goods in its Kmart stores, which could diminish the brand’s value.

Culture clash

Just four months ago Sears chairman Edward Lampert refuted rumors that Lands’ End was for sale. At that time Lampert referred to the apparel and home goods merchant as “a great American brand that we can run very well.” But speculation remains that Sears, which is best known as a hard-line retailer, is having difficulty melding the soft-goods company into its operations and brand. “The attempt to integrate Lands’ End may remind people of ‘the softer side of Sears’ campaign, which was not well received,” says the anonymous source.

Lands’ End as a Sears brand “has never quite worked,” says Kendrick Packer, managing partner of Des Moines, IA-based Financial Advisory Partners. “The two separate customer bases for each company are just not compatible.”

Meads, who became a vice president at Lands’ End in 1991, was named president/CEO in February 2004. She replaced David Dyer, who had left in July 2003 to become president/CEO of Tommy Hilfiger Corp.

Meads has an excellent reputation in the industry. “Mindy Meads came from the merchandising end of things, and you don’t last that long and do that well if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Packer says. Sears needed a fall guy, he contends, and because they haven’t had success with the Lands’ End brand, Meads was singled out.

“Mindy’s merchandising knowledge revitalized the Lands’ End brand,” says an industry executive who asked not to be identified. “She worked hard to keep the Lands’ End culture alive in an environment owned by Sears and Kmart. And obviously those cultures are very different.”