Harvard Business School
Rev. July 24, 2000
Jeanne Lewis at Staples, Inc. (A) (Abridged)
Six months from now, on February 1, 1998, Jeanne Lewis (HBS ’92) would become the senior vice president of marketing at Staples, Inc. (Staples), a nationwide office supplies superstore. After 10 months working side by side with Todd Krasnow, the current executive vice president of marketing, Lewis was becoming familiar with the department. Her initial assessment led her to wonder if the department’s operating style was suited to evolving competitive realities. As Krasnow’s heir apparent, Lewis wanted to be involved in shaping the department’s priorities for the upcoming year. The strategic planning process traditionally began around this time in August, and Lewis wondered if the time to start taking action had arrived.
Thus far, 1997 had been a trying year for the company: the Federal Trade Commission had challenged Staples’ proposed merger with Office Depot, and the two companies had recently abandoned 10 months of merger efforts. At that time, Chairman and CEO Tom Stemberg reaffirmed his commitment that Staples would grow from a $5 billion company to a $10 billion company by the turn of the century. Staples not only had to grow bigger, it also had to grow better, as analysts had become accustomed to the company’s 14 consecutive quarters of earnings-per-share growth in excess of 30%. The theme of the upcoming year was twofold: strong growth and more effective execution.
Lewis believed that Stemberg’s pronouncement to look for the “silver lining” in the failed merger and to take to heart the lessons of the merger could serve as a call to action for the marketing department. Marketing, which served as both an architect and driver of the brand, would play a critical role in Staples’ continued success. Lewis knew that Staples could survive only if it was prepared to get rid of outmoded ideas and replace them with new ones—a philosophy shared by Krasnow. But Lewis also knew that it could be frightening to give up the ideas that had made the company successful. Furthermore, the marketing staff was understandably apprehensive about Krasnow’s planned departure, and many were already mourning his loss. Lewis explained:
While the merger distractions were going on, things that maybe should have been dealt with, weren’t. Now, I wanted to make it clear that a new person was coming on board in this area, and figure out how we could get back to business. We needed to refocus on building our business, because it was as competitive as ever, and we had lost a couple of beats in a few marketing areas while busy with the merger. We were at a turning point in the marketing department, as opposed to being long past it. Because of the confluence of external events as well as our own internal complexity, if we didn’t change, then I was concerned it would start to show eventually in sales.
Research Associate Jennifer M. Suesse prepared this case under the supervision of Professor Linda A. Hill as the basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation. It is an abridged version of an earlier case, “Jeanne Lewis at Staples, Inc. (A),” HBS No. 499-041, prepared by Research Associate Kristin C. Doughty under the supervision of Professor Linda A. Hill. Some names have been disguised. Copyright © 2000 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685, write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to http://www.hbsp.harvard.edu. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the permission of Harvard Business School. 1
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