The rise and fall of a British giant

THE FALL and rise of Sears took almost a century. Along the way, writes Nigel Cope, it became one of Britain's most widely based conglomerates but by the end it was a regularly out-manoeuvred embarrassment.

It began in 1908 when it was founded by John Sears. But it was in the Fifties and Sixties that it really began to prosper, under the control of Charles Clore.

As well as shoe shops such as Saxone and Freeman Hardy Willis its interestscovered engineering, ship building, William Hill bookmakers, and jewellers Mappin and Webb and Asprey. In 1988 Sears bought the Freemans Mail order business for over pounds 400m, a valuation it has rarely enjoyed since. By this time Sears' British Shoe Corporation sold one in four of the nation's shoes.

By 1992 Liam Strong was in charge. It was to prove the start of a period that would eventually lead to yesterday's take over. Mr Strong tried to grapple with the sprawling business, slimming it down and developing new shoe chains such as Hush Puppy, and Shoe Express. Olympus Sports once the dominant sports chain in Britain was sold to a group led by Philip Green.

And in 1996 a deal to sell several shoe chains with Stephen Hinchliffe went badly wrong, forcing the group to break British Shoe up costing Sears pounds 240m.