OKLAHOMA CITY -- Fleming here last week set its direction for the post-Robert Stauth era by naming Mark S. Hansen chairman and chief executive officer, effective immediately. Hansen -- an industry veteran who has worked for companies including Wal-Mart Stores, PetsMart, Federated Foods and Jewel Cos. -- will face the task of building ties with customers and improving financial results.
Hansen's appointment follows by about four months the departure of Robert Stauth, who was chairman and CEO. Edward C. Joullian 3rd, who has served as interim chairman since Stauth's exit, relinquishes that role but remains on the board. Fleming's executive management team reports to Hansen.
Stauth, who departed the company in July in a move engendered by the board, left behind five turbulent years that included a series of lawsuits by customers, declines in sales and lackluster earnings, and losses of major customers.
Hansen was most recently president and CEO of Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Ark., and an executive vice president of Wal-Mart. He resigned from that role in September in what was termed a "personal decision."
"With Mark's appointment, we have found just the leader to restore Fleming's position in our industry," Joullian said. "He has been a customer-oriented executive with a history of marketing and operating achievements for several of today's most aggressive, innovative and successful retailers."
Hansen said, "The board's decision represents a milestone in my career and will afford me the opportunity to play a leadership role in implementing Fleming's strategic plan to reshape the company. As Fleming's chairman and chief executive officer, my primary objectives are to support the success of our customers and to improve Fleming's competitive position and long-term earnings potential."
Nancy Del Regno, a Fleming spokeswoman, said Hansen will spend his early days at the company immersing himself in meetings with customers, associates and shareholders as he moves forward on an agenda.
Before his Sam's Club post, Hansen was president and CEO of Phoenix-based PetsMart. Hansen's other experience includes management positions with Federated Foods, Arlington Heights, Ill., and Jewel Cos., Chicago. Hansen also held merchandising and marketing positions earlier in his career with A&P and National Tea Co.
Some industry observers applauded Hansen's choice because he brings a lot of experience to the wholesaler, which also operates corporate stores.
"Its better to have a CEO with experience for making decisions than one with no hand at the tiller," said Mark Husson, an analyst with Merrill Lynch, New York.
Another analyst said, "Fleming realized it needs to be shaken by someone who has played in the big leagues. I think you'll see many management changes at Fleming that will lead to long-term gains."
One trade observer said Hansen will face challenges in trying to improve ties with customers and enhance financial results.
"He must restore independent customer relations, which were frayed by Fleming's Flexible Marketing Plan program," this observer said.