Sobeys storefront

Sobeys names Medline new CEO

Experienced hardlines exec ‘right choice’ for struggling retailer

Michael Medline has been named president and CEO of troubled Canadian grocer Sobeys and its parent company Empire Cos., the companies said late Thursday.

Medline is an experienced retail executive who most recently served as CEO of hardlines retailer Canadian Tire. At Sobeys, he succeeds Francois Vimard, who was serving as interim CEO since July. Vimard, Sobeys CFO, concurrently has been named EVP of Empire and will assist the transition.

Canada’s second largest grocer has been in search of a new leader since dismissing Marc Poulin in July. The company, based in Stellarton, Nova Scotia, has been reeling from the aftereffects of a botched integration of Safeway Canada and slow consumer acceptance of a new go-to-market strategy.

“Michael Medline is an outstanding Canadian retailer who brings a passion for the customer experience and a proven ability to drive strong operating and financial performance within national organizations and across multiple brands,” James Dickson, chairman of Empire, said in a statement. “After an extensive international search, the board is unanimous in its determination that Michael is the right choice to create long-term value for all our stakeholders.”

Medline served as president and CEO at Canadian Tire from 2014 until being abruptly replaced by a predecessor, Stephen Wetmore, in July. Reports suggested Canadian Tire’s board was dissatisfied with the company’s digital strategy, despite strong sales, share and bottom-line results under Medline.

Medline spent more than 15 years at Canadian Tire in a variety of leadership positions. He is also a former president of FGL Sports, a sporting goods retailer acquired by Canadian Tire. He is a former corporate counsel for PepsiCo Canada.

The appointment is effective immediately. Sobeys said Medline would work closely with Vimard, and other Sobeys executives board members to “understand the unique aspects of Empire’s business.” Sobeys has also been working with outside consultants, reportedly Boston Consulting Group, on a program to reduce internal costs.

 “I am proud to be joining Empire, a great retailer which has served Canadians for more than 109 years. I'm looking forward to working with our entire team to put together and execute on a strategy that will thrill our customers, build our brands, and excite our shareholders,” Medline said.

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