The Harder Side of Sears

In picking a new CFO from the banking industry, hedge-fund manager Eddie Lampert places an emphasis on a finance department driven by hard data and quantititive analysis.

Sears Holdings has named J. Miles Reidy as CFO. Reidy, who comes to the retailer from a long finance career in the banking industry, will begin his new job in October.

It is not immediately clear why Sears turned to someone with an extensive banking background to run a retail operation, but, in announcing his hire, the company emphasized Reidy’s strong reliance on quantitative analysis.

“Miles has built and led highly quantitative, analytical finance organizations,” said acting CFO William C. Crowley, who is also chief administrative officer and a member of Sears’ board of directors. “We have asked Miles to bring to Sears Holdings this rigorous approach to testing and creating value through data-driven decisions.”

Reidy’s appointment follows the January resignation of Craig T. Monaghan. Monaghan, formerly the CFO of AutoNation, left Sears after just five months on the job. Contacted by CFO.com at the time, he declined to comment on the reasons for his resignation. The company said at the time that he was returning to Florida where his family resides. Monaghan was replaced, on an interim basis, by Crowley.

Reidy, who will report to Crowley, joins Sears from Capital One Financial, where he served in a number of senior financial and planning positions with increasing responsibility, including chief financial officer of the company’s credit card division; chief planning and financial strategy officer, executive in charge of banking integration and, most recently, as financial cost executive reporting to the chief risk officer.

Prior to Capital One, Reidy held a variety of financial and strategy positions at other major financial institutions, including Chevy Chase Bank, FSB; First Commerce and Mellon Bank. At Sears, Reidy will be operating under the direction of billionaire hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert, who controls Sears and the Kmart brand.

Reidy’s financial skills are in for an immediate test: At $130, Sears’ stock is way down from its high of $195 earlier this year. In the second quarter, six of the 10 largest sellers of Sears stock were hedge funds. Four of those funds sold out their entire positions, apparently having lost interest in sticking around to learn what Lampert planned to do with nearly $4 billion in cash and equivalents on the company’s balance sheet.

Many observers expect Lampert to turn Sears into an unofficial hedge fund, using the cash to either trade stocks or make investments in other companies; sort of a Warren Buffett in miniature. Whether or not that’s the case, Reidy also faces challenging day-to-day problems, like the retail giant’s long slide in same-store sales. In either case, his quantitative and analytical background are likely to prove critical.

For example, Lampert and Crowley may rely heavily on Reidy’s data-driven approach to decide what to do with individual underperforming stores — Sears owns so much valuable underlying real estate that Lampert’s purchase of the company was often described as a real-estate play as much as a retail industry acquisition.

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