John Rishton has occupied the chief executive’s office at Ahold for only a short time but is already making quite an impression.
“In my mind, he is the second most important guy in the European food retailing universe,” Matthew Truman, a London-based analyst who follows Ahold for Lehman Brothers, told SN in a recent interview. “I would rate him almost as high as Terry Leahy of Tesco.”
Truman said Rishton has made Ahold a compelling story in global retailing by demonstrating an ability to deliver on objectives with speed, precision and few surprises. These objectives include the disposal of companies like U.S. Foodservice, Tops and its assets in Poland and the acceleration of long-term strategies designed to reverse sales erosion at U.S. banners Stop & Shop and Giant- Landover.
“In the last 18 months he has come in and executed above and beyond market and professional expectations, not just in terms of amount garnered from disposals, but the speed and efficiency and clarity with which they delivered on their strategies,” Truman said. “When you reflect on what John says, you understand he doesn’t say anything without meaning he can execute on it too. Other CEOs in this space talk, but don’t deliver.”
Rishton took over as Ahold’s CEO officially last November, though he served as interim CEO since last July. He joined Ahold in 2006 asits chief financial officer afterserving the same role for British Airways.
David Pendleton, an executive with Bristol, England-based human resource consultant Edgecumbe Group, said Rishton combines personal charm with an ability to be firm and concise.
“John is remarkable for three reasons. Firstly, as you would expect, he is very intelligent, learning fast and making extremely sound observations about the markets in which he has worked and is currently working. He also focuses well on the vital few priorities rather than confusing people,” Pendleton said.
“Secondly, he is extremely skillful with people. He is able to be firm, challenging and clear, and also warm, supportive and appreciative. The combination is rare.”
Thirdly, Pendleton said, Rishton “is remarkably modest. Unlike many CEOs, he is down to earth and self-effacing. This is a refreshing and unusual attribute for someone who has risen so far.”
Ahold’s asset sales in 2007 returned more than $6 billion to shareholders and reduced debt by more than $3 billion, helping Ahold regain its investment- grade status.
In the U.S., the changing economic environment and rising food prices have aligned perfectly with the completion of 18 months of rolling price investments at Stop & Shop and Giant. Those banners are beginning the marketing and branding phase of Ahold’s “Value Improvement Program” now, and Rishton is confident results will show in the coming year.
“If there were more CEOs like John, there would be more successful organizations with happier workforces,” said Pendleton. “He inspires commitment and confidence.”
— JON SPRINGER