A Business section article Tuesday about Montgomery Ward said that Meshulam Riklis owns Charles Town Race Track; Riklis sold the track in August 1983.
Depending on who you believe, Stephen L. Pistner quit as president of Montgomery Ward & Co. either because he had accomplished his goal of making the chain profitable or because he couldn't do it.
Retailing industry analysts yesterday offered both explanations for the surprise resignation Saturday of the president of Mobil Corp.'s struggling Montgomery Ward division.
Pistner, 52, resigned effective later this week, "to pursue a new career opportunity," Mobil said in a statement.
Pistner could not be reached for comment, but Wall Street speculation yesterday had him taking a job and possible ownership position with Rapid-American Corp., which owns the McCrory and Lerner Shops retailing chains. Rapid-American is controlled by Meshulam Riklis, the aging financier whose investments include Springfield Mall and Charlestown Race Track.
Pistner's parting from Mobil apparently was amicable. Richard F. Tucker, president of Mobil's diversified business group, which includes Ward's, said in a statement that Pistner "is to be commended for his contributions to the progressive turnaround at Montgomery Ward and the assembling of a management team capable of continuing Ward's positive progress. . . . All of us at Mobil and Ward wish Mr. Pistner every success in his future endeavors."
No successor was named. Mobil said Tucker would temporarily move to Ward's Chicago headquarters to oversee the chain until a new chief executive is named.
When he joined Montgomery Ward from Dayton-Hudson Corp. nearly four years ago, Pistner was given the job of reviving the nearly moribund chain -- a big money-loser for most of the decade Mobil has owned it. In all, Mobil has lost about $600 million on the Montgomery Ward operation, and there has been recurrent speculation that Mobil would like to sell the business.
Under Pistner, Montgomery Ward trimed 50 stores, upgraded the quality of the remaining 375 outlets, streamlined the company's operations and concentrated on products -- such as furniture and consumer electronics -- in which Ward's showed the best results. In the process, he replaced virtually all of the company's top management and imposed his sometimes abrasive management style on the company.
In 1983, Mobil turned a $40 million profit, its first since 1979. Though Ward's operated at a loss through most of 1984, company officials have said they expect to make enough money during the crucial Christmas season to show another profit for the year. Its sales are about $6 billion annually.
"The general impression I've got is that he accomplished what he set out to do: he repositioned the company," said Fred Wintzer, an analyst at Shearson Lehman/American Express. "The company has come out with a new strategy, a new store format. . . . My guess is that was the part of it that interested him.
"Guys that seem to thrive on turnarounds don't seem to stay around after they've done the turnaround," Wintzer added, pointing out the Pistner had come to Montgomery Ward shortly after completing a remake of Dayton-Hudson Corp.'s Target chain.
But other analysts noted that Pistner had said he would not leave Montgomery Ward until the company was solidly profitable, something the recent results do not indicate. Therefore, these analysts suggested the Pistner left in frustration over Montgomery Ward's inability to become as successful as he would have liked.
"The thing was much tougher to turn than he thought it would be," said Monroe H. Greenstein, a retailing analyst at Bear Stearns. "If it was succeeding, he would not have left." Greenstein added that Pistner had been unhappy for some time with the company's progress.
Edward Weller, an analyst at E. F. Hutton & Co., also said Montgomery Ward had not been turned around sufficiently. "I think Ward's is changed for the better. I'm not sure it's good yet," he said. "Maybe he just got tired. He worked all the time. . . . There have been a couple of other senior-level departures at Ward's in the past couple of months. Maybe they're tired and they're heading for the hills."
Weller said he believed that the management group assembled by Pistner would have liked to purchase Ward's from Mobil, but missed an opportunity to do so a year ago and found that Mobil no longer wants to sell. Greenstein, however, said he believes Mobil would love to find a buyer for the chain. A Mobil spokesman, John Flint, said yesterday that the company had a "going commitment" to Montgomery Ward.