JACKSON, Miss. -- Jitney-Jungle Stores of America here said last week Michael E. Julian has resigned as chairman and chief executive officer "to address personal matters." The company also announced a number of other personnel changes last week.
And the earlier-stated intention to pursue a strategic partner for Jitney-Jungle may be reconsidered. As reported earlier, Jitney-Jungle executives said last month they might consider a merger with another company. As for Julian's exit from the company, it was not specified what matters led to his departure and Julian could not be reached for comment. However, Jitney said Julian will continue to consult with the company.
Succeeding Julian as CEO is Ronald E. Johnson, who retains his title as president but gives up the title of chief operating officer. The post of chairman will not be filled.
Johnson told SN Jitney-Jungle may be reconsidering its decision to pursue a strategic partner. "While we are still considering pursuing a strategic relationship with someone in the industry, we are looking at the same time at the possibility of running the business without a strategic partner," Johnson said. "We're reviewing all options."
In other personnel changes announced last week:
Richard D. Coleman resigned as chief financial officer "to devote more time to his family," the company said. Coleman has been commuting since January between here and Tampa, Fla., where his family lives.
David R. Black, senior vice president of finance and assistant secretary, has been reappointed chief financial officer, a position he held from May 1966 until January, when he gave up the CFO title to attend to personal matters.
Roger P. Friou, a member of Jitney's board and a former corporate officer, has been named a consultant to the company. Friou was Jitney president from March 1996 until May 1997 and was vice chairman and CFO from 1991 to 1996.
Julian, who became Jitney's chairman in August 1998, formally resigned June 3, though the announcement of his departure was delayed several days.
These personnel changes come on the heels of several others made known late last month in connection with the consolidation of Jitney's four operating regions into two, as was reported earlier. Johnson told SN Jitney's equity holders -- Bruckmann Rosser, Sherrill & Co., New York-based investors -- have decided not to name a permanent chairman to succeed Julian. "With BRS owning 77% of the company, they're a pretty powerful force, and they feel the position of chairman is not necessary," he explained.
Although Jitney announced its management changes late last Tuesday, rumors about pending changes, including expectations of Julian's departure, were circulating throughout the day. As a result the price of Jitney's bonds nosedived throughout the day, with senior subordinated bonds dropping more than 20 points to close at $52 and its senior bonds dipping nearly 10 points to close at $92.50.
Ted Bernstein, a high-yield securities analyst with Grantchester Securities, New York, told SN last week's announcements from Jitney "are very interesting developments, particularly given the long relationship between Julian and BRS when both were involved with Farm Fresh.
"The market will view this development with a jaded eye and wonder whether the situation at Jitney is worse than it had believed -- something only time will tell."
Jitney-Jungle operates 197 supermarkets, 55 Pump And Save gas stations and 10 liquor stores, primarily in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, with some stores in Tennessee, Florida and Arkansas. Sales for 1998 were $2.05 billion and same-store sales were down 4%.
BRS acquired Jitney in 1996 for $373 million. The three principals of BRS had been with Citicorp Venture Capital Co. in the late 1980s when it acquired Farm Fresh, Norfolk, Va. -- a chain headed by Julian.
When BRS acquired Jitney, Julian was named a Jitney director, and when he left Farm Fresh in 1997 he was named Jitney's CEO. Johnson joined Julian as chief operating officer at Jitney in September 1997 and was later named president, and Coleman came on board last January when Black stepped down as CFO.
Jitney doubled its size to more than 200 stores in 1997 when it acquired Delchamps, Mobile, Ala., for $215 million. But a debt of approximately $570 million and increasing competition have made it difficult for the chain to remain competitive, leading it to declare three weeks ago it was looking for a strategic partner.
The company said last week it is continuing efforts to complete a new $35 million supplemental credit facility to help meet its needs for working capital and capital expenditures.