Kmart Hires New Prez/CEO to Build Image

Oct 19, 2004
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Kmart was looking for a brand builder and marketer to lead the company and it got one.

Yesterday, Kmart announced it had hired Aylwin Lewis, the now former president and chief multi-branding and operating officer of Yum Brands (Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell, A&W All-American Food and Long John Silver’s), to lead the company as its new president and chief executive officer.

“Understanding brands and how to build brands will be important in this role,” Mr. Lewis told the Detroit Free Press. “The stores will be very important to me. I will spend a ton of time in the stores. My job is to build a culture where everyone’s contribution matters. I came from a culture with positive energy. The stores will be very important to the culture.”

While some question whether someone without a retailing background can jump into the top spot of a large organization such as Kmart, others see Mr. Lewis as an ideal choice.

“The people who work at Kmart will no longer be confused about what the company stands for and what the immediate goals will be,” said Pat Dailey, editor of Restaurants & Institutions magazine. “He really understands customer service. He understands the value of creating a strong culture.”

Mr. Lewis replaces Julian Day, who oversaw the retailer’s emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and its strategy of cutting costs and selling off real estate assets to turn the company’s finances around. Mr. Day will continue to serve on the company’s Board of Directors and will be available to assist Mr. Lewis as it takes over his new duties.

Gary Ruffing, a retail consultant with BBK Ltd., doesn’t think Mr. Lewis’ hiring means the end to Kmart selling off property to build up its cash reserves. The retailer might even take some of that money and look into acquiring another retailer or perhaps a food service operator.

“Here’s a guy (Lewis) who has multiple brand experience and the ability to manage those brands. You have a company that has a brand that is tarnished, but has a lot of cash and the ability to grow as a brand. I don’t see this as just a retail play.”

Moderator’s Comments: What will the hiring of Aylwin Lewis mean for Kmart?

In team sports, we’ve heard that the difference between a good player and a great player is that while a good player gets his points, a great player gets
his points and makes the players around him even better. It appears as though Kmart may have gotten itself a great player in Aylwin Lewis, retail experience or not.

We especially enjoyed the insight from Al Salas, who was divisional vice president of Pizza Hut under Mr. Lewis.

“There is no one that I know who has worked for him that hasn’t excelled,” Mr. Salas told the Detroit News. “He’s very good at getting the team focused,
aligned. He gets people to do the things that they think they can do and more.”

George Anderson – Moderator

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