A litmus test of the power of the marketing manager in the '90s begins in March as ex-British Airways marketing director Liam Strong slides into the chief executive's seat at retailer Sears plc. Strong, who earned a name for reviving sluggish businesses at Proctor and Gamble and Reckitt and Coleman, is the type to step up the cautious cost-cutting under way at Sears. But more importantly, his love for launching new products and ideas (it was he who gave away a free day's air travel at BA) is expected to pump life into ailing arms like British Shoe Corp. Strong is apparently an enthusiast for Europe, and after the success of a Benelux and German-based retail joint venture with the French Groupe Andre, it would be no surprise to see him make fresh efforts there. The remnant US interest Miss Erika is rumoured to go, while the shuffling menswear and shoe divisions could see their merchandise overhauled as Strong puts his nous for "what the public wants" to work. As UBS Philips and Drew analyst John Smith points out, these latter divisions, plus homebuilding,have shrunk from providing £140 million of Sears' £240 operating profit in 1988-89 to an expected £5 million this year. Can marketing make the difference? The answer to that question lies with Liam Strong.
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