Date: Feature Week of
November 21, 2004
BLACKS TAKING CHARGE IN CORPORATE RETAILING
Lewis Top Man in Sears Kmart Chains
Forget the Blue Light Special: Kmart Holding and Sears Roebuck now have the green light to one of the biggest retailing mergers in history. Kmart Holding Corporation and Sears, Roebuck and Co. have agreed to merge into a new retail company named Sears Holdings Corporation and an African American is in the catbird seat in the deal.
A black man, Aylwin B. Lewis, will carry three executive titles with what will be the one of the world’s largest corporations. Lewis will be vice chairman and chief executive officer of Sears Holdings; president of Sears Holdings and chief executive of Kmart and Sears Retail. Sears Holdings will be the nation's third largest retailer, with approximately $55 billion in annual revenues, 2,350 full-line and off-mall stores, and 1,100 specialty retail stores.
Retailing is an industry where blacks have been making constant impact and upward progress. Retailing is the heartbeat of the capitalist economy and a multi-trillion dollar business that employs millions of people and utilizes the services of hundreds of thousands of vendors and suppliers. Some of the vendors and suppliers that currently do business with both have expressed concern about the potential for reduced business opportunities as a result of the merger. It is estimated by Target Market News that Kmart and Sears currently purchase more than $1.1 billion in products and services from suppliers owned by minorities. The new company will also be the retailer with the most significant relationships and experience with African- American vendors, suppliers, and customers.
African American consumers will be a major target for Aylwin Lewis and his companies. Over the past two decades the buying power of black households has more than doubled and grown 50 percent faster than that of the U.S. population as a whole. Target Market News reports that the both merged retailers are known for developing innovative marketing strategies to target African American consumers. For example, Kmart, which uses the Carol H. Williams Advertising agency, has created special newspaper supplements targeting black and Hispanic readers. Sears, represented by Burrell for its black advertising efforts, has announced an "ethnic makeover" for 97 of its stores. (It is also notable that Sears, Roebuck & Company made Dr. Sybil Mobley its first black female member of its board of directors in 1982) is very probable that the competitive leverage of Sears Holding may force other retailers to concentrate more on African-American consumers and introduce similar strategies.
Aylwin B. Lewis was named president and chief executive officer of Kmart in October 2004. In addition to the three titles he will carry in the new corporation. Lewis will be one of the ten members of the new board of directors. Mr. Lewis 50 years old, has a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Houston. He has a solid background in retailing. Mr. Lewis' first job after college was as District Manager of Operations for Jack in the Box, a chain owned by Foodmaker Inc., covering a district in Texas. He advanced in a variety of food retail positions, including Pepsico’s KFC and Pizza Hut, where he became Chief Operating Officer in 1996. Ironically, Lewis was a PepsiCo COO 34 years after Harvey Clarence Russell, Jr. became the first black vice-president of a leading national corporation, when he became VP in charge of Special Markets for Pepsi.
Following the spin-off of PepsiCo's Restaurant Division as Tricon Global Restaurants Inc., Lewis served as Chief Operating Officer of Pizza Hut, and ultimately was put in a new position at Tricon as Executive Vice President of Operations and New Business Development. In June of 2002, Tricon Global Restaurants changed its name to YUM! Brands after it acquired the Long John Silver's and A&W All-American Food restaurant chains. These two new brands were purchased to place more than one brand under a single roof, called "multi-branding." In January 2003, Lewis was promoted to President, Chief Multi-Branding and Operating Officer at YUM! Brands and is also a director of the Halliburton Co., and the Walt Disney Company.
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