Ahold CFO Could Speed Changes

AMSTERDAM The resignation of Anders Moberg as chief executive officer of Ahold here could prompt an acceleration of the value improvement program under way in the United States, analysts here told SN last week. Ahold said Moberg, who was named CEO in 2003 when the company was seeking to recover from a massive accounting scandal, will leave the company by July with a year left on his contract. Filling

AMSTERDAM — The resignation of Anders Moberg as chief executive officer of Ahold here could prompt an acceleration of the value improvement program under way in the United States, analysts here told SN last week.

Ahold said Moberg, who was named CEO in 2003 when the company was seeking to recover from a massive accounting scandal, will leave the company by July with a year left on his contract. Filling in as interim CEO effective July 1 will be John Rishton, the former British Airways executive who remains Ahold's chief financial officer.

Richard Withagen, an analyst with SRS Securities here, told SN he believes that as acting CEO, Rishton could seek to accelerate some of the initiatives Ahold is undertaking, including the rollout of an EDLP platform in Ahold's Giant-Landover and Stop & Shop divisions.

“Rishton is the kind of guy who is going to push for fast results,” Withagen said, describing Moberg as having “more of a philosophical approach” to retailing. “I could see Rishton pushing for the full rollout of the value improvement program in the U.S. by the end of the year.”

Patrick Roquas, an analyst with Rabobank Securities, also based here, said he agreed that Rishton's appointment as interim CEO could accelerate the company's initiatives, including divestments.

“We believe Mr. Rishton can speed up an operational recovery of U.S. retail and improve capital efficiency,” he wrote in a note on Moberg's resignation. “Secondly, we anticipate an increased focus on value creation. In the short term, this could imply an exit from the Czech Republic as well as the disposal of investment property and real estate.”

He also said he thinks that if the performance of the U.S. Retail division does not improve, a breakup of the company is more likely.

“We believe that synergies between U.S. Retail and Europe are not substantially higher than the potential synergies between [U.S. Foodservice] and food retailing, which is one of the main reasons why we believe Mr. Rishton has pushed for the disposal of USF and other non-core assets.”

Ahold last week said it had agreed to sell Columbia, Md.-based U.S. Foodservice to Clayton, Dubilier & Rice and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts for $7.1 billion.

The Tops supermarket banner in Buffalo, N.Y., is expected to be sold late this year.

Although Moberg is credited for putting Ahold on the path to recovery from the accounting scandal, which centered around overstated vendor rebates at U.S. Foodservice, he also faced criticism from shareholders on the pace of that recovery. Reports in the Dutch press indicated he might also have clashed with the board over his reported desire to acquire department store chain Hema in the Netherlands. In announcing his departure, Ahold said only that the board felt it was “time for a change in leadership,” and that a permanent successor would be named later in the year.

In Europe, Ahold has seen strong performance from its Albert Heijn banner in the Netherlands, whose own value improvement plan provided the model for the U.S. version.

One of the architects of the Albert Heijn recovery, Dick Boer, who is now chief operating officer for Ahold Europe, is seen by analysts as a possible eventual successor to Moberg.

“He certainly has a lot of experience with retail,” said Withagen.

Roquas said investors would prefer a CEO with “ample experience and a good track record in U.S. food retailing.”