In the June 2019 Fortune magazine, I found an incredibly interesting article on Sears. In 1969, 2/3 of Americans shopped at Sears in any given quarter, and its sales were 1% of the entire US economy. Certainly, that is not the case today.
The authors compared Sears’ demise to the principles Jim Collins sets out in his book How the Mighty Fall. Collins is the author of one of the best business books I’ve ever read, called Good to Great. Although Collins did not use Sears for his book, the principles line up exactly with what happened to Sears. Let me explain.
It begins with arrogance; which Sears developed on a mammoth scale. Until the troubles of 1970’s Sears retail operations had never hired a consultant. They also built the world’s largest headquarters- the Sears tower. It was supposed to be fully occupied with Sears employees by 2000. In reality, they vacated the building by 1995.
Arrogance erodes discipline, and discipline is essential to Collins’s analysis of decline. Cost discipline is often the first to go, and that certainly was the case with Sears. Although they bought goods for less than anyone else, they continued to have a massive overhead.
Success creates growth, which spawns bureaucracy, which subverts discipline. “The what replaces the why.” They were given the recipe book on what to do, but not the reasons behind it.
Sears’ leaders began to externalize the blame for what was going wrong. They also got away from their primary industry which was retail, and concentrated on financial services. How wrong they were when we see Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, and Amazon!
The last stage of decline is literal corporate death – insolvency and disappearance—or it can just be irrelevance which the company has already reached. Sears is done.
In the last paragraph the article makes this statement. “But the Sears story should scare us. It shows every business leader that no matter how celebrated or dominant his or her business may be, the forces of destruction could be at work right now, unnoticed, caused by success but also hidden by success, undermining all the work the leader has done. Rare indeed is the executive who can spot those forces before they lead to an ugly end.
So, how do we apply this to our spiritual life? Humility is a dominant theme in the Scriptures, and Jesus Himself demonstrated unbelievable humility. We need to practice the disciplines of our faith: prayer, the word, witnessing, fellowship, and obedience. We must avail ourselves to the means of grace.
We were made to live in community. We need others to help us grow, to point us in the right direction, to give us accountability and encouragement. We must always be growing and learning.
We need to remind ourselves of the whys of the Christian life. We do what we do to please our Father, to bring His Kingdom to earth, to recover lost souls, and to love others as ourselves.
We look forward to the consummation of our faith in the new heavens and new earth. As we do these things we hasten our Lord’s return, who sets all things right, and He will be proclaimed the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Come Lord Jesus.
Excerpts from the Article Seven Decades of Self Destruction – Fortune Magazine May 20, 2019 by Geoff Colvin and Phil Wahba