Alan Lacy, CEO of Sears Holdings, meets with students during a visit to the College of Management.
Alan J. Lacy, CEO and vice chairman of Sears Holdings Corporation, suffered a rude shock when he started at Georgia Tech in 1971. Though he'd breezed through his small-town high school without breaking much sweat, Lacy found the going far tougher at Tech.
"My study habits were quite poor," remembers Lacy, a native of Cleveland, Tenn., who gradually developed a heavy-duty work ethic that has never diminished.
A career full of thirteen-hour work days proved to be time well spent in 2000 when Lacy, IM '75, assumed leadership of Sears, Roebuck and Co., a 120-year-old provider of home, apparel and automotive products and services that is regarded as an American institution.
This year has been particularly busy for Lacy. He completed the deal he considers his crowning professional achievement to date - the merger of Sears and Kmart into a $50 billion powerhouse, the nation's third-largest retailer with about 3,500 full-line and specialty stores. "When I became CEO, it was clear that the company needed to change significantly to survive in a very competitive retail marketplace," Lacy says.
An important part of Sears' growth strategy has been to open more stores outside of shopping malls. Turning 400 existing Kmart locations into Sears' stores over the next few years is much faster and cheaper than having to find new sites, Lacy says. Shoppers benefit from the merger by gaining greater access to the leading proprietary brands of both Kmart and Sears, including Kenmore, Craftsman, Lands' End, and Martha Stewart Everyday, he adds.
Media and market critics initially questioned the wisdom of the merger, but Lacy soon felt vindicated by the swift, sharp increase in Sears' stock price. "I feel like it's strategically been a great thing for both companies," says Lacy, who was inducted into the College of Management's Academy of Distinguished Alumni in 2004.
Before becoming CEO, Lacy built a successful career in finance, following the lead of his father, who served as chief financial officer for a chain of five-and-dime stores. After earning an MBA from Emory University immediately after college, Lacy started out as a financial analyst at Holiday Inn and later held senior finance positions at Kraft and Philip Morris.
He joined Sears in 1994 as senior vice president of finance and was named executive vice president and chief financial officer the following year. "As CFO, you get to engage in every aspect of the business and know all its strengths and weaknesses," says Lacy, who realized he wanted to be top dog after a few years with Sears. "So it was a pretty easy migration from that position to CEO."
Though he makes sure to spend plenty of time on weekends with his wife, Caron, and two sons at their home in the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, Lacy remains tethered to the BlackBerry wireless communicator that keeps him open for business at all hours. "It's hard to be a CEO these days unless you're willing to be available 24/7," says Lacy, who's fond of golf and travel when time permits.
A former member of the Georgia Tech Advisory Board who serves on the boards of the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Field Museum of Natural History, he resists spreading himself too thin with corporate board appointments. "Sears is more than a full-time commitment," says Lacy, who made time to appear in the College of Management's IMPACT Speaker Series in 2003.