Arthur Martinez.

Position:Sears chairman - Interview

The former Sears chairman trades in a full time career in retailing to bring his merchandising and strategizing skills to the boardroom.

WHEN Arthur Martinez turned 61 years old in September 2000, the Sears, Roebuck & Co. chairman and CEO was only three months away from celebrating the next major chapter of his life. For in that time, the changing of the guard at Sears would take place, marking an end to his five-year tenure as head of the nation's second-largest retailer. It would be a moment Martinez had anxiously looked forward to since announcing his retirement plans earlier in the year. His new status as a retiree would give him all the time in the world to lay back and enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Spending more time with friends and family and indulging himself in long vacations at exotic resorts were certainly top retirement priorities for the Sears exec. In fact, when Directors & Boards caught up with him in February, he and his wife, along with two other couples who are longtime friends, had just returned from a three-week vacation in Fiji and New Zealand. And that's not all, as Martinez was quick to share. "We're going to Morocco in April for a couple of weeks," he declared elatedly, "and also to Alaska in September."

But retirement means more to Martinez than leisurely trips to sandy beaches and fantasy locales. When he's at home, Martinez maintains an office at Sears Tower in Chicago, and remains an active presence in the local business community as a director of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, a trustee of Northwestern University and of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and as a second-term chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago.

Martinez also serves as a director of the National Retail Federation (NRF), and as chairman of its research and program development arm, the National Retail Federation Foundation. Based in Washington, D.C., the NRF is the world's largest retail trade association, whose mission is to conduct programs and services in research, education, information technology, and government affairs to advance the interests of the retailing industry. Its board has nearly 100 CEOs and senior executives. Martinez had formerly served as chairman of the NRF from 1998-2000.

Richard Sharpe, chairman of Circuit City Stores, a consumer electronics retailer, currently serves as NRF chairman. He describes Martinez as "very intelligent and charming, personality traits not always found in combination." Sharpe, who has known Martinez for nearly 15 years, adds, "His personality really came in handy when he was head of this organization. He had the ability to manage the flow of our activities effortlessly and gracefully, which is always good when you're dealing with a trade group made up of a bunch of CEOs."

Martinez says he misses the stimulation of the challenges he faced as CEO of Sears. He has chosen to remain engaged in the corporate world through his work on four public company boards, two of which he joined just weeks after his retirement. While he was chairman of Sears, he held only one outside directorship at...

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