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Board of Directors
President: 1928-1939
Chairman: 1939-1954
Honorary Chairman: 1968-1969

Julius Rosenwald, Robert Wood and the Allstate tire.  1929ca_1mASTire2"The price of leadership is unceasing effort; we cannot get smug and self-satisfied, we must always keep learning, we must keep improving our methods, our organization, if we are to retain our leadership." (1950)

The long career of Brigadier General Robert Elkington Wood was distinguished by outstanding success in two separate fields - the military and business.

Robert Elkington Wood was born June 13, 1879, in Kansas City, Mo. Wood graduated from the U. S. Military Academy at West Point in 1900. In 1905, after serving two years in the Philippines, Wood was ordered to the Panama Canal Zone, where he worked for the next 10 years.

In May of 1915, Wood retired from the Army to enter the business sector. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Wood immediately offered his services to the War Department and served as a colonel in the 42nd (Rainbow) Division.

Col. Wood was later ordered back to Washington, D.C., to assume new duties as the acting quartermaster general, with the rank of brigadier general. For his service in World War I, Wood received the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Honor from France, and the Order of St. Michael and St. George from Great Britain.

Returning to civilian life in 1919, he joined mail-order giant Montgomery Ward as the general merchandise manager before being named vice president. Wood left the company in 1924 to become vice president of Sears and to lead its factory operations.

So began a 30-year period for Wood as an officer of Sears in which he led it into retailing pre-eminence. Wood spearheaded the Sears program to open retail stores outside of urban centers. The store expansion program was a huge success and brought Wood the presidency of Sears in January 1928, upon the death of Charles Kittle. In 1939, he was named chairman, and he continued to direct Sears throughout World War II. During the war, Wood also served the U.S. government as a civilian adviser to the Army Ordnance Corps and Air Corps, making two trips around the world to visit war fronts, Wood was rewarded with the Legion of Merit, the Army's third-highest decoration.

While many companies saved pennies during the materials-rationing era of World War II, Wood directed Sears to research and anticipate the post-war demographic and economic climates. From 1945 to 1953, Sears spent more than $300 million on physical improvements and additional facilities. Sears' sales almost tripled in the same period.

Under Wood's leadership, Sears went from being the largest mail-order business primarily serving the rural population to the world's largest merchandiser. Wood's intuitive sense for retailing was finely honed, but it wasn't merely guesswork. Gen. Wood's basic measure of Sears success was the sales of shoes and hammers. His reason? Because everyone needed those two items.

During his tenure as president and chairman, Wood became very interested in the Sears savings and profit-sharing pension plan. This fund, which held the largest block of stock in Sears at the time of his death, was one of Wood's abiding interests: "I'm prouder of it than of anything else I ever did in business."

He retired as chairman of Sears in 1954 to slow down his hectic pace, but remained a member of the board of directors for Sears and Allstate. When he retired as a director in 1968, he was elected honorary chairman of the board of Sears. Gen. Wood died November 6, 1969, at age 90 at his home in Lake Forest, Ill.

 
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