General Robert Wood
General Robert E Wood will always be remembered as the builder of Sears retail store system, as a merchant whose career was marked by innovation, as a businessman who led his firm to merchandising greatness, and as a man of statesmanlike character.
But his reputation as a builder and a leader was well established before he ever joined Sears. He began his career in the United States Army. At age 17 he won a competitive appointment to West Point and graduated 13th in his class in 1900. In 1915 he retired from the Army as a Major, but when World War One began he volunteered once more. He went to France with the famous 42nd Rainbow Division under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. In 1918 he was recalled to Washington, DC and promoted to Brigadier General at age 39, and put in charge of the Army’s new plan to centralize all buying and distribution for the four million man force.
At war’s end, General Wood joined Montgomery Ward as a vice president with an idea. He saw that the automobile was changing the face of the nation and people were moving from farms to cities. He correctly predicted that these changes would inevitably mean a change in the way mail order companies did business. His plan was to build retail stores long the new highways and in the path of the shifting population.
But he was unable to sell his idea to Montgomery Ward’s so he left and moved to Sears. In 1925 he opened the first Sears retail store and it was a success from the beginning. In 1928 he was elected President of Sears and immediately invested 35 million dollars to open 300 more stores.
In 1930 he startled the company’s board of directors with a proposal to sell automobile insurance by mail. On April 17, 1931, Allstate Insurance Company was ready to write its first policy.
General Robert E. Wood died in 1969 and in its obituary, the New York Times recalled one of his comments which says as much about the man as anything.
“Money and power are desirable if they can be obtained without the sacrifice of principle. The greatest success comes not from money, power or fame, but from a happy marriage, a happy family and a happy home.”