by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 1, 1996
A workmanlike account of the selling and salvaging of R.H. Macy's, an American retailing institution. Wall Street Journal correspondent Trachtenberg (Ralph Lauren, 1988) starts with a brief history of the business founded by Rowland Hussey Macy in New York in 1858. The real story begins, though, with the arrival in 1948 of a trainee named Edward S. Finkelstein. A gifted merchant, the hard-driving Harvard Business School grad worked his way up the corporate ladder and in 1980 was named the Manhattan-based company's CEO, with baronial offices atop its storied Herald Square flagship (still the world's largest department store). Five years on, the vaultingly ambitious Finkelstein (then 60) resolved to take Macy's private, to give himself a freer hand. Fee-hungry investment bankers and lawyers soon arranged a leveraged buyout that yielded stockholders a handsome premium and left Finkelstein & Co. in charge of a debt-burdened national chain. Owing to overly optimistic profit projections and a series of merchandising miscalculations, the deal was in almost instant trouble. Nor did it help that Finkelstein had contracted a severe case of hubris, placing a risky bet on private labels and installing his unqualified sons in key positions. While a cash-strapped Macy's was struggling to convince edgy lenders and vendors it was creditworthy, two top rivals (Allied and Federated) were taken over by an oddball Canadian named Robert Campeau; he promptly managed his new holdings into bankruptcy, forcing Finkelstein (who had rashly entered Macy's in the bidding contest for Federated) to engage in ruinous markdown battles. The company's mistakes and misfortunes eventually put it in receivership, and Federated (which had successfully reorganized in the meantime) was able to acquire Macy's on decidedly favorable terms, with an embittered Finkelstein obliged to watch from the sidelines. An enlightening postmortem on a consequential LBO, which vividly depicts its human and socioeconomic costs.
Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996
Page Count: 352
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996
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