Doug Morton fixates on all that’s wrong at his company — what will save money, improve service, sell more baseball gloves.

“In retail, you wake up every day and say, We have to be better than last year,” says the chief executive of Englewood-based Gart Sports. “It’s inherently a business you focus on the negative to fix it.”

That Scrooge mentality has served him well.

When Morton took the CEO title in 1995, Gart had 40 stores and about $125 million in sales. Contrast that with today’s 180 stores and $1 billion in sales — numbers that will more than double this fall, when Gart merges with Florida-based Sports Authority.

The 52-year-old Morton, a husband and a father of four, has built a reputation of pushing employees hard, but few would say they work longer hours than Doug Morton, a man who can drink four pots of coffee during his typical 12-hour day.

“He’s a good person to work for because he’s a fair person to work for,” says one Gart store manager, James Hamilton.

“The first time you go up and shake his hand, it can be a little intimidating,” notes Hamilton, referring to the boss, who stands 6 feet 6 inches with a large frame and a deeper voice than Johnny Cash.

“Whenever youre working for somebody as dynamic as Doug is, and ambitious as he is, it’s tough sometimes,” says Paul Gaudet, a 17-year Gart veteran. But “the reason we are as successful as we are today is the way Doug motivates us,” he says.

Gaudet, who started as a Gart shoe salesman, now reigns over Gart’s 68 Rocky Mountain stores.

“He was this bright, enthusiastic, bubbly retailer guy, and I put him through hell to make him grow,” Morton says. “He left the company once,” he adds with a laugh.

It’s a tale that runs parallel to Morton’s own career.

The CEO wasnt groomed at a Fortune 500 company. He didnt go to Harvard or work on Wall Street.

Morton was a janitor in the Salt Lake City sporting-goods store managed by his father, John Morton, before studying finance at Utah’s Westminster College.

At graduation, he had three offers — to work for a Mexican computer manufacturer or a Big 10 accounting firm, or return to his hometown and go to work for the local sporting-goods chain as an assistant manager.

The decision was obvious, he says.

“I didnt have the language skills to go to Mexico, and Ive loved sporting goods since I was a kid,” says Morton, an avid skier and scuba diver.

“I like people. I like retail,” Morton says. “Even when business has been tough, there’s always the new shoe that comes out next week, new skis or new golf clubs. People get excited about that stuff. People want to get away from working.”

In 1980, the Salt Lake chain was purchased by Malone & Hyde, a retail holding company, and most employees lamented the loss of independence.

Morton, who loves change, embraced the opportunity to learn. He made friends with Peter Formanek, a top executive at Malone & Hyde and now a member of Gart’s board.

They skied together. Morton visited corporate headquarters in Memphis, Tenn.

“I went to work with people that were way brighter than I was,” he says. “I could see the business practices and systems it takes to run a large company.”

Morton worked his way up and in 1986 got a call from Jerry Gart — a friend of Morton’s father and the second generation in Denver’s sporting-goods empire.

The Garts were selling their business, then called Gart Bros., to Thrifty Corp. but planned to keep running it. They put Morton in charge of the Utah region.

Once again, Morton took lessons from a corporate parent. He became an executive vice president in 1990, two years before the Gart family departed for good.

Most sporting-goods stores across the country were family-owned. Some were chains, but few were large.

Then Sports Authority and a few others went public in the early 1990s, fueling rapid-fire growth that changed the industry and forced Gart to a breaking point in 1994, after its corporate parent spun it off.

It needed to grow or be acquired.

That same year, Morton quit over differences with then-CEO John Chase, but a company director persuaded him to cool his heels and stick it out awhile.

Before long, Morton was offered the top job and immediately launched a restructuring plan.

“We had a bloody, nasty summer,” Morton recalls. “I let a lot of people go.”

Gart went public, and growth kicked into high gear. Over the past five years, Gart has run a marathon of acquisitions, the first being SportMart of Chicago in 1998. Three years later it was Oshman’s.

Now comes the marriage with Sports Authority, which will more than double Gart’s store count, sales and debt. It will be Morton’s first national operation.

Morton says he will try to be more of a visionary leader and a visible one. Already he sits on various industry boards. His face is in the trade papers a lot.

“Ive never really met him, but he’s obviously well thought of in the sporting-goods industry,” says Fred Jacobsen, owner of Sportline team sports shop in Arvada. “From what I read in the trade press, people are really concerned (about) what he thinks. He has a very good reputation.”

If anything troubles the CEO, he says that’s it.

“I worry about my reputation a lot,” Morton says matter-of-factly. “I dont want to do anything that’s bad for shareholders or the people here.”

Though his confidence rarely cracks, Morton talks as frankly about his mistakes and flaws as his successes.

“I dont do details. It’s not me,” he says. But he has surrounded himself with bright people like Tom Hendrickson, his chief financial officer, who do.

But Morton isnt just about board meetings and mergers. He visits the Colorado stores — though less frequently as the company grows.

Do employees like him?

“I dont know. I havent asked,” Morton says. “It’s tough because sometimes you are making a decision (that negatively affects) one individual, but it’s the right decision for the other 7,000 people who work here.”

Hamilton, who three years ago applied for a part-time job at Gart just so he could get a free ski pass, says he has stayed because of the opportunities.

“Often in companies it’s who you know, not what you know,” he says.

At Gart, “youre evaluated on performance, tangible things you can do to prove yourself.”