That question popped into my head as I read the news of Sears -- technically Sears Holdings Corp. -- posting a $2.4-billion quarterly loss and announcing plans to raise cash by selling off stores. The company's chief executive, Lou D'Ambrosio, labeled Sears' financial performance "unacceptable."
Presumably Richard Warren Sears would have agreed. He co-founded Sears, Roebuck and Co. in 1893 with Alvah Curtis Roebuck. Sears was 30 at the time. Roebuck was 29.
The mail-order business the duo created was arguably the model for Amazon.com and every other Internet retailer that discovered consumers were willing to buy stuff without actually touching the item first.
But it wasn't for Roebuck. Just two years after the Sears and Roebuck catalog debuted, he asked his partner to buy him out for $20,000. Roebuck just wasn't interested in the workaday world of making a business grow.
Sears did as requested and proceeded to turn the company into a retail behemoth. But nothing lasts forever, and now the company is struggling to survive.
And Roebuck? He took his windfall and moved to Florida. In 1934, he was asked by a Sears store manager to make a public appearance, and enjoyed the gig so much he made similar appearances throughout the country. Roebuck then signed on as the company's corporate historian.
Sears died in 1914 at the age of 50.
Many years later, Roebuck was asked if he regretted not having made as much money as his former partner. He reportedly replied, "He's dead. Me? I never felt better."
Roebuck died in 1948 at the age of 84.
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