Of all the American marquee department store chains that struggled to stay alive in the wake of the 2008 Great Recession, only to face the more recent juggernaut of online shopping, none strikes me as more tragic than Macy’s (NYSE:M), arguably the Vatican of American consumerism. It’s true that the company, along with its cousins—JCPenney (NYSE: JCP), Sears, Kohl’s (NYSE: KSS), and Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN) among them—have had to cope with once-in-a-generation events both economic and structural.
But it’s also true that the real culprit behind the withering future of once-venerated emporiums isn’t just an economic cycle or the runaway success of the digital marketplace. Amazon (NYSE: AMZN) isn’t the executioner. What’s been killing America’s legacy retailers, and in particular Macy’s, are the CEOs whose egos got in the way of common sense. Rome caught fire a decade ago, but most of the executives who might have saved companies like Macy’s from their current dismal condition—many flirting with or already in bankruptcy—deserve the lion’s share of the blame for fiddling when they should have been reinventing.
How bad is it, especially for Macy’s? As of this past Friday, August 23, the market capitalization of the company—all shares outstanding times the stock price—was a little better than $4.5 billion. That’s an improvement from the cellar of 2008 when its market cap bottomed out at $2 billion. But it’s a shadow of the $20 billion peak value reached in 2015.