TIME TO SHINE

Five executives to watch: Industry leaders who face business transformations in 2008.

In the fiercely competitive world of food retailing, few things can stay the same for very long.

The industry's leading companies are forever either reinventing themselves or tweaking their strategies to stay relevant to customers and stay a step ahead of their competition.

Executing such changes calls for strong leadership. On the following pages, SN profiles five industry executives who have been tasked with implementing transformations in their organizations, SN's “Executives to Watch in 2008.”

The five — Richard Dreiling [3] of Dollar General, Steve Junqeiro [4] of Save Mart, Rebecca Philbert [5] of A&P, Laura Sen [6] of BJ's Wholesale and Jack Sinclair [7] of Wal-Mart Stores — are either newly hired, newly promoted or given new responsibilities as a result of a recent merger.

At Dollar General, Dreiling, a Safeway veteran who most recently helped engineer turnarounds at Longs Drug Stores and Duane Reade, was brought in last month as chief executive officer following the chain's acquisition last year by private-equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. He will be charged with seeking to return profit growth at the massive chain, whose earnings fell about 61% in its last year as a public company.

Analysts said Dreiling's broad range of operations experience both at Safeway and in the drug store channel should give him a solid foundation for the Dollar General challenge, although at 8,200 locations, the chain is more than 30 times the size of Duane Reade — and spread out over a much vaster geography.

Junqeiro also faces a significant challenge at Save Mart, where the company's acquisition of Albertsons' Northern California business has doubled the size of that company. Now that the nameplates have been changed — many to the “Lucky” banner — the behind-the-scenes work of integrating the supply chains and ordering systems has taken precedence.

Wal-Mart's newest executive is a bit of a mystery, although observers believe Sinclair, executive vice president of grocery merchandise, will likely be in charge of rolling out the company's small-store format, believed to be called Marketside and planned for introduction in the Phoenix area. He also could have the right skills to develop more customized strategies for grocery merchandising and marketing, some say.

“The job is to concentrate on integrating the backstage systems and processes, and implementing best practices to make sure we get the best return on our investment,” said Junqueiro, who as executive vice president is now the No. 2 executive at the company.

Across the country in New Jersey, Philbert, senior vice president of merchandising and supply & logistics, A&P, faces similar challenges after the acquisition of Pathmark Stores created a $9.4 billion chain operating under several banners.

“My mission is to leverage our merchandise and supply/logistics operations to grow our company to the top position in every market we serve,” she told SN.

BJ's Wholesale Club, like Dollar General, is undergoing a more comprehensive reorganization following the departure of its former CEO, Mike Wedge. Named president and chief operating officer this year, Sen — a former BJ's executive who returned to the company last year — is considered a likely candidate to become the next CEO. She faces the task of boosting sales of high-ticket general merchandise items.

“On the buying side, there is usually too much art rather than too much science. Laura has a great mix of the two, which makes her unique in her world,” said Debra Weinswig, senior analyst with Citigroup Global Markets, New York.

Wal-Mart's newest executive is a bit of a mystery, although observers believe Sinclair, executive vice president of grocery merchandise, will likely be in charge of rolling out the company's small-store format, believed to be called Marketside and planned for introduction in the Phoenix area. He also could have the right skills to develop more customized strategies for grocery merchandising and marketing, some say.

“This is Wal-Mart's golden chance to get back to its glory days, after two years of drift, by reinforcing its price image and bringing increased discipline to store operations,” said David Rogers, principal at DSR Marketing Systems, Deerfield, Ill.