After only six months at the helm, Jim Donald is stepping down as president and chief executive officer of Albertsons Cos., to be succeeded next month by PepsiCo executive Vivek Sankaran (left).
Albertsons said Friday that Sankaran, CEO of PepsiCo Foods North America, is slated to take the reins as the Boise, Idaho-based grocer’s president and CEO on April 25. Donald will become co-chairman along with board member Leonard Laufer, a senior managing director at parent company Cerberus Capital Management.
Plans call for food and drug retail veteran Robert Miller to assume the role of chairman emeritus and to continue as a board director. Donald had succeeded Miller as CEO in September 2018, about a month after Albertsons and Rite Aid Corp. decided to terminate their $24 billion merger deal, which led the drug chain earlier this month to announce the planned departure of CEO John Standley.
Donald joined Albertsons in March 2018 as president and COO, coming over from Extended Stay America, where he was CEO from 2012 to 2015. Before that, he served as president and CEO at Haggen Inc. from 2009 to 2011. He came to Haggen after six years at Starbucks Corp., where he worked his way up from president of the North America Division to president and CEO.
“When I joined Albertsons Cos. in 2018, I found a company that had a strong decentralized operating model, a fantastic leadership team and incredible potential to be the four-walls and no-walls leader in the grocery industry,” Donald (left) said in a statement. “Over the past year, our team made our company’s nearly 2,300 stores even stronger as we sharpened our focus on the intersection of technology and service. I’m looking forward to the continued progress of the company under the seasoned leadership of Vivek. We continue to be well-positioned to serve the evolving needs of today’s customer where, how and when they choose to shop with us.”
A 47-year retail veteran, Donald started his career as a trainee in Florida with Publix. He joined Albertsons in 1976, which later led to an appointment as vice president of operations in Arizona. In 1991, he was recruited by Sam Walton to join Walmart to lead the development of its grocery business and Superstore concept. Donald left for Safeway in 1994 to be the senior vice president of its Eastern region, a position he held for two years. His first CEO role was at Pathmark Stores from 1996 to 2002.
“Vivek brings a rare blend of CPG, retail, manufacturing, logistics, technology and research and development to Albertsons Cos., all of which are key components to being a successful retailer in an omnichannel-driven environment,” said Donald. “Moreover, Vivek has the keen understanding that the front line is directly linked to the bottom line, and I'm confident he will inspire and engage our 270,000 associates across our stores, support offices, manufacturing facilities and distribution centers.”
Sankaran has served as PepsiCo Foods North America CEO since December. Prior to that, he was president and chief operating officer, a role he held since 2016. In addition to leading growth at the Frito-Lay snack brand, over his 10 years at PepsiCo Sankaran has served as chief commercial officer for PepsiCo North America, chief customer officer of Frito Lay and as senior vice president of strategy for PepsiCo. Before coming to PepsiCo in 2009, he was a partner at McKinsey and Co.
“It is a great privilege to join a company that has such deep roots in American retail,” Sankaran said. “Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel Osco, Shaw's, Acme, Tom Thumb, Randall’s, United Supermarkets, Market Street, Pavilions, Star Market, Haggen and Carrs — all of these banners and more in the Albertsons Cos. family of stores have hundreds of years of combined history. Our stores are integral to the lives of millions of customers each week.”
Overall, Albertsons Cos. operates food and drugstores in 35 states and the District of Columbia under 20 retail banners, as well as meal kit company Plated, which is based in New York.
“I’m excited to build on the legacies of past CEOs Bob Miller and Jim Donald, who both laid a solid foundation for success, and look forward to working with our associates to realize the opportunities and navigate the challenges in our evolving industry,” Sankaran added.
In being named co-chairman along with Donald, Laufer stands to be taking on a bigger role at Albertsons due to his technology background.
An Albertsons board member since October, he also is head of transformation and technology for Cerberus and leads Cerberus Technology Solutions, which focuses on leveraging emerging technology, data and advanced analytics to transform businesses. In particular, Albertsons said, Laufer and his team work closely with Cerberus investment and operating professionals to improve systems and generate value from data. The Cerberus subsidiary holds expertise in advanced analytics, artificial intelligence, digital/e-commerce, agile development, big data and cybersecurity. Prior to joining Cerberus, Laufer had launched and led JPMorgan Intelligent Solutions, a unit of JPMorgan Chase & Co. created to solve business problems and provide strategic insights through data mining, analytics and modeling.
Albertsons is engaged in a range of key technology initiatives. In January, for example, the company partnered with Microsoft Corp. to use its Azure cloud computing technology as the preferred platform for immediate and long-term efforts to “digitally transform” customer interactions, sharpen operations and deliver better products and services. And in October, Albertsons unveiled an alliance with online grocery automation startup Takeoff Technologies to pilot a hyperlocal micro-fulfillment center, part of efforts to build its own back-end infrastructure for e-commerce.
With the departure of Sankaran, PepsiCo Inc. on Friday appointed Steven Williams, senior vice president and chief commercial officer for Frito-Lay U.S., as CEO of PepsiCo Foods North America, effective immediately. PepsiCo said Sankaran is slated to leave the company on April 12.