Forrest R. "Woody" Haselton graduated from Sanford High School in 1957. A graduate of the University of New Hampshire, Mr. Haselton spent nearly 30 years of his career with Sears Roebuck starting as a store trainee in 1965 and working his way up to President of Sears Retail, where he managed the buying, merchandising and marketing activity for the Sears Merchandise Group, which included 835 stores with annual revenues totaling $26 billion. Mr. Haselton retired from Sears in 1994, and currently serves on the board of directors of several organizations, including Quaker State and Boy Scouts of America.
SANFORD - When Forrest "Woody" Haselton embarked on his career with Sears, he had a specific goal in mind. "My fondest dream was to become a store manager," says Haselton. "That was a pretty good job."
Haselton achieved his dream, but then he went a lot further, working his way up to the position of president of the Sears Retail division.
By the time of his retirement in 1994, Haselton relocated 14 times, and traveled around the world. He was responsible for many improvements in Sears' merchandising, and played a part in the decision to stop publishing the more than 100 year-old Sears catalogue.
It is for his many achievements in the world of retailing that Forrest "Woody" Haselton has been selected as an inaugural member of the Sanford High School Hall of Fame.
While he was at Sanford High School, Haselton was a three-sport athlete. "I played football, basketball, and baseball," says Haselton. "We won the state championship my senior year in football."
In addition to his athletic achievements, Haselton was on the student council, served as a class officer, and he was a drummer in the marching band. Haselton also played with fellow Sanford High School Hall of Famer Vic Firth's band while he was still in high school. "He's a terrific guy," says Haselton of Firth.
After graduating from SHS in 1957, Haselton went to Boston University. However, after his freshman year, Haselton transferred to the University of New Hampshire.
After graduating from UNH with a bachelor's degree in political science, Haselton began a three year tour with the United States Air Force.
It while he was working in the Air Force's supply operation that Haselton started to become interested in retailing. "I thought I had built up some experience in the supply chain with the Air Force, and I thought it was a logical step to go somewhere where I had experience," says Haselton. "I discovered that the distribution system of the Air Force was built by General Robert Wood, who built the distribution of Sears.".
Upon his discharge from the Air Force in 1965, Haselton went to work for Sears, though not where he expected. "I requested to stay in Maine," says Haselton.
But, as is the case with many large companies, that was not to be.
"I got a letter that said, 'Welcome to Sears, we're glad we could give you your first choice, welcome to Rhode Island'," laughs Haselton.
So, Haselton moved to Middleton, R.I. to begin his career with as a management trainee.
During his initial nine month assignment, Haselton says that he was rotated through all of the departments throughout the store, so he could get a feel for every department in the store.
Then, Haselton was assigned to manage the automotive department, and continued to quickly be promoted, never staying in one job or location for very long. "Of the first five or six jobs I had, I don't think I spent more than one year on any of them."
Haselton's next move was to North Carolina, where he was promoted to group manager, responsible for overseeing all of the store managers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
Moving on to Los Angeles, Haselton was promoted to one of only four territory manager positions in the company and supervised operations for 120 stores.
Haselton was in Los Angeles for four years, until Sears consolidated their territories from four to two, he was put in charge of the southern half of the country. According to Haselton, his new territory included about 400 stores.
After three years, Haselton was put in charge of Sears' automotive operations for the entire country, becoming senior vice president of the automotive business group. "I got to travel the world," says Haselton of his new position. He met the president of Michelin Tire in France and the president of Bridgestone in Tokyo.
Haselton was also was instrumental in negotiating the first contract for Sears to carry Goodyear tires. "It was the first time ever that Goodyear tires were sold outside Goodyear stores," says Haselton.
At a meeting to discuss the contract, Haselton told the chairman of Goodyear, "of all the tires we took off cars in our stores, one-third were Goodyear tires, and we can't put Goodyear tires back on the cars."
Haselton says that the chairman was "overwhelmed" by that revelation. "That's when we started some serious negotiating," says Haselton. "The first year we sold 2 million Goodyear tires."
After seeing the success that Haselton had with the automotive group, Sears chairman Ed Brennan tapped him to become the president of Sears retail.
Haselton was in charge of buying, marketing, and merchandising activity for Sears, overseeing a total of 835 stores with annual revenues of $26 billion.
By 1993, Haselton was ready to take an early retirement from Sears, but Sears CEO Arthur Martinez asked him to stay on for one final task, and a hard one at that. Martinez asked Haselton to oversee the closing of the venerable Sears catalogue. "It was a very difficult thing to do," says Haselton. "Principally because it (the catalogue) had been around for over 100 years."
Haselton says that while the decision to close the catalogue was hard from an emotional standpoint, it was an easy business decision. "We were losing tremendous profits," Haselton says.
"We closed 1,800 small catalogue stores and liquidated $1.5 billion of merchandise," all in a six month period Haselton says. "Our people were wonderful right up to the very end."
After retiring from Sears in 1994, Haselton joined the board of Quaker State (which has since merged with Pennzoil), serving with such people as former National Security Advisor General Brent Scowcroft and former Senator Howard Baker, who was White House Chief of Staff under Ronald Reagan.
.Haselton also owns the Nellie Littlefield House, a bed and breakfast in Ogunquit. He bought the 110 year-old house in 1995 at the suggestion of his wife Ethyl. "After 13 moves, she has become a wonderful decorator of houses," says Haselton.
Haselton has two sons, one is a photographer in Miami, but his other son followed in his father's footsteps and is the manager of a Sears store in Glenn's Falls, N.Y. However, Haselton says that his son began working for Sears, "against my better wishes." Haselton says he urged his son to start with another company, such as Montgomery Ward, so he could start his career out of his father's shadow.
"My reasoning was that because I was the president, he could never be sure that he was successful because of him or because of me," Haselton says. However, Haselton now feels that his son made the right choice in following his father. "He's done pretty well," says Haselton.
And a family tradition continues.
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© 2004 Sanford High School