Sears Appoints Online Head

Sears Holdings Corp. is expected to name a veteran Microsoft Corp. executive to lead its online businesses, one of five operating units the retailer is crafting in an effort to spark a turnaround.

James Barr, a 12-year Microsoft executive and general manager of MSN Shopping and Marketplaces, will take over the online unit effective Feb. 2 as a senior vice president of Sears Holdings. MSN Shopping is a comparison-shopping site with nearly 9,000 retail affiliates.

He joins Sears at a time when it is struggling to boost sales and halt a profit decline. Sears Chairman Edward S. Lampert Tuesday confirmed a reorganization that he said would "increase autonomy and accountability, create greater ownership and enable faster, better decisions." His plan calls for online, brands, support, operating businesses and real-estate units run by executives and individual advisory boards.

Mr. Lampert, 45 years old, has been scouring the retail industry for seasoned executives interested in leading the business units, dangling the prospect of an initial public offering or spinoff of successful ventures.

Mr. Barr's appointment was expected to be announced Monday. A spokeswoman for the Hoffman Estates, Ill., retailer declined to comment. Mr. Barr couldn't be reached for comment and a Microsoft spokesman declined to comment.

Separately, Sears confirmed Neil Day, a former executive, is joining the firm as the online unit's senior vice president and chief technology officer. He most recently was chief executive officer of digital-music storage start-up, Media Master Inc.

In the last three quarters, profits at the 121-year-old retailer have declined on a year-to-year basis despite new marketing, online and sales initiatives. Sears said fourth-quarter profit would fall about 50% from a year earlier. Sears was formed from the 2005 merger of Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Kmart.

Mr. Barr will oversee operations, business and technology for all the company's online units. In the past,,, and most other online operations reported to John C. Walden, the retailer's chief customer officer. Mr. Walden left the company a week ago.

Mr. Barr's appointment as the first of several business-unit executives signifies the importance that Mr. Lampert is placing on online sales.

Mr. Day joined in 2000 when it acquired technology he had helped develop for, a hardware retailer. "He was instrumental in launching and building into a leading internet retailer," said Carter Cast, CEO of NetShops Inc. and a former Wal-Mart Stores Inc. executive.

via WSJ...

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