The Most Powerful People in Retail

Jeffrey P. Bezos AmazonThe holiday shopping season has begun and retailers are scrambling to attract shoppers, but it won't be easy. Unemployment is stuck above 9%, consumer confidence remains shaky, and the real estate market is a mess.

Even with all these headwinds, though, times are not as bad for retailers as some may think. Shares of many companies are up and some are bullish about the future as they plan to hire loads of temporary holiday help.

Wrapping up our month-long special report on the retail sector, DailyFinance picks the most powerful players in the industry. To qualify for our list, the company must have a well-known CEO who is perceived as an industry leader, as well as improving financial performance:

Jeff Bezos, CEO of (AMZN) -- Bezos (pictured, above right) has defied the skeptics who derided the Seattle-based company as a low-margin flash in the pan. The 46-year-old, who reportedly took apart his own crib with a screwdriver when he was a toddler, developed the business plan for Amazon in his garage in 1994. The Earth's biggest bookseller has since evolved into the world's largest e-commerce site. Thanks to his early start in Internet-based sales, the Seattle-based company now has a market cap topping $75 billion. Shares of Amazon have soared more than 268% over the past five years, and have gained 25% this year.

Michael Duke, CEO of Walmart (WMT) -- Ever since being named CEO of the world's biggest retailer in February 2009, the 60-year-old Duke has been trying to get its mojo back. It's not for lack of trying. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer is sprucing up its stores, hiking advertising spending and slashed expenses. It also is looking to expand overseas. Same store sales, though, have declined for five quarters in a row, and Wall Street remains skeptical. Duke recently said he expects fourth quarter sales to improve but declined to offer specifics. Shares are up 1% this year.

Gregg W. Steinhafel, CEO of Target (TGT) -- The 55-year-old executive, who started off as a management trainee in 1979, is having a better year than his rivals at Walmart. Shares are up 12% in 2010. As Retailer Todaynoted, Target has reported positive same store sales growth in every month since December 2009, except for an aberration in April 2010. Target is benefiting from its decision to add more fresh produce to stores, and giving shoppers discounts for using their Target credit cards seems to be paying off. Target is optimistic things will get better in the fourth quarter.

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Terry Lundgren, CEO of
Macy's (M) -- Under the 58-year-old's leadership the department store chain has gone local, offering goods geared toward local tastes.In a speech last year at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, Lundgren noted that it was hard for Macy's to offer a personalized touch to its shoppers when buyers and middle managers had to service as many as 200 stores across a region of up to 10 states.Macy's new local plan tackles that issue head-on. Shares are up more than 32% this year fueled by strong earnings. Revenue is expected to rise more than 5% this year.

Brian Dunn, CEO of Best Buy (BBY) -- When the 50-year-old took over leadership of the largest consumer electronics retailer last year, the sector was in perhaps its biggest slump ever, with long-time rival Circuit City going bust. But the former grocery store clerk who never went to college is fighting back against rivals including Amazon by opening small mall-based stores that sell only mobile phones and by remodeling existing ones. It is also asking manufacturers to design exclusive products. He even still uses his Twitter account to address customer complaints, according to Fiscal second quarter earnings rose 61 percent and the retailer also increased its guidance. Shares are up more than 8% this year.

Millard "Mickey" Drexler, CEO of J. Crew (JCG) -- For a guy who was supposedly washed up, the 66-year-old Drexler has done resoundingly well. Months after he was fired from Gap Inc. (GPS) in 2002, the retailer began emerging from its slump as merchandise he originally ordered took off. He has excelled at his next assignment at J. Crew. "At Gap he turned the wearing of khakis into an art form," The Wall Street Journal says. "... and now at J. Crew he is spinning sequins, combat pants and cashmere into a raging success story. In 2005, the company turned its first profit in five years, and between 2003 and 2008 revenues rose 107 percent."

Stephen Sadove, CEO of Saks (SKS) -- The 58-year-old is overseeing the storied retailer at an opportune moment. Shares are up more than 67% this year as investors bet that well-heeled consumers would begin spending again. They were right. September same store sales rose 6.5%, ahead of analysts expectations of 3.8%, Of course, not everything is hunk-dory. Saks continues to shutter underperforming stores. Nonetheless, analysts are expecting yearly earnings per share growth of 31.6 percent.

Edward Lampert, CEO of Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD) -- The 48-year-old hedge fund manager was the driving force behind the merger of Sears and Kmart in 2004. Six years later, many investors are still not sure if the deal was a good idea. Lampert has been compared with Warren Bufffett because of his long-term investment outlook and his penchant for penning lengthy missives to shareholders. Shares of the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based company are down more than 37% this year, though they have rebounded lately.
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