Sears CIO Lasts 20 Months: Kasbe Out

Written by Evan Schuman
December 22nd, 2010

The $44 billion 3,900-store Sears chain has one of the lengthiest histories of any major U.S. retailer. But given how long its stores have lasted, its latest CIO’s tenure lasted not very long at all.

Timothy Kasbe, a celebrated IT exec who arrived at the chain in February 2009 after having served as the CIO of India’s largest retail chain, quietly left the company early last month (November). Very quietly. No announcement; no SEC filing (which is often done for the separation of such a senior C-level executive as senior VP). And Kasbe didn’t update his LinkedIn profile. Just a quick deletion from the Sears Web site.

Some vendors who had appointments with Kasbe were told by his office that the meetings had to be canceled and that he’s no longer with the company. They were also told to keep that information quiet.

To be fair, Sears is hardly known as a chain where executives run up substantial tenures. Various senior-level division heads have lasted much less than the 20 months that Kasbe did. And, yes, the cases are pretty much split evenly between those execs who Sears tired of and those who couldn’t handle the Sears culture. Individuals familiar with this case were mum about who tired of who first in Kasbe’s case.

Sears is now listing no CIO. Company spokesman Chris Brathwaite would only say that IT VP Keith Sherwell is running the Information & Technology Group “until a permanent replacement is named.”

The reasons for Sears’ high executive turnover—where the CIO is sometimes considered the world’s best paid temp—are multiple. The consensus, however, seems to be that although senior management—and especially the board—understands the chain needs major changes and recruits top talent to execute those changes, they are still highly resistant to making said changes.

That creates an atmosphere where new execs propose new approaches and get slapped down. The executives get discouraged and unhappy. And corporate is also unhappy, because they see changes as challenges. This can be described as sort of a “this is how we’ve been doing it for more than 100 years, young man/young lady” attitude. In the meantime, problems mount, sales drop and it’s always easy to blame whatever executives are in charge, regardless of whether their requests are frequently being overruled.

Slightly interesting side note: Even though Sears is often referred to as one of the oldest American retail chains, its 1886 founding doesn’t even qualify it for the top seven oldest chains. Brooks Brothers (1818), Lord & Taylor (1826), Macy’s (1858), A&P (1859), Bloomingdale’s (1861), Saks Fifth Avenue (1867) and Barnes & Noble (1873) are all older. (Thanks go to RISNews for having tracked this history a few years back.)

Before Kasbe served in India as the CIO for Reliance Retail—where he ran through the Mumbai streets to escape the terrorist attack on that city back in November 2008—he spent more than 10 years in a retail practice at IBM.

One of the chief non-tech focuses for Kasbe—who has a Duke University MBA—are global orphan care and build-a-village initiatives, with a particular focus on foster care programs in India. He’ll be among the retail IT speakers at next month’s RetailROI (Retail Orphans Initiative) SuperSaturday event in New York City, hours before the opening of the National Retail Federation’s annual tradeshow just a few miles away.


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