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Sobeys parent creates COO, CIO roles in exec shakeup

Empire says new structure marks ‘shift to offense’

Pierre St. Laurent has been named chief operating officer, a newly created role, at Sobeys Inc. parent Empire Company Ltd. as part of a senior management restructuring.

Calling the reorganization a “shift to offense,” Empire said the move includes the establishment of two new positions: chief information officer and head of innovation. Searches are under way to fill both posts, according to the Stellarton, Nova Scotia-based company.

St. Laurent begins as COO, full-service, effective immediately. For nearly the past year, he has served as executive vice president of merchandising and Quebec. He was promoted to the chief merchant’s role, after previously serving as leader of the Quebec business, in a shuffling of senior executives last spring.

Pierre_St-Laurent_Empire_Company_Sobeys.pngAs COO, St. Laurent (left) will oversee merchandising, retail operations and supply chain across Empire’s full-service and community grocery retail banners, including Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Thrifty Foods and Foodland. Empire noted that the COO post will better aligns merchant teams with retail operations and create a unified, national voice to suppliers and customers.

Now reporting to St. Laurent will be Luc L'Archeveque, senior vice president of merchandising and general manager for Quebec, and Lorne MacLean, senior vice president of retail operations. With the move, L'Archeveque and MacLean also join the executive committee.

Under the restructuring, Empire's information technology team will now report to Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Michael Vels. Noting that IT will be “powering the next phase of growth and digital innovation for the company,” Empire said Vels has deep experience in technology, digital implementation and transformation, along with a track record of improving business performance from information systems. IT will add to Vels’ current reports, which include the company’s real estate, indirect sourcing and the enterprise project management funtctions.  

Empire also announced that Lyne Castonguay, executive vice president of store experience, will be leaving the company to pursue other career interests, as part of a planned transition. She has served in the role for about a year — overseeing store operations, distribution centers and grocery banners (except in Quebec) — since being promoted from executive vice president of merchandising. Plans call for Castonguay to assist President and CEO Michael Medline with the transition of her role.

The new CIO position is intended to drive the “simplification and harmonization of technology tools” at the company. The role will report to Vels and become of member of the executive committee. Clinton Keay, Empire's former head of technology and transformation management, assumed the role of CFO of the company’s Crombie REIT unit on May 15.

With the newly created head of innovation role, Empire said it aims to “bring a laser-like focus” to strong growth potential solutions and to accelerate those initiatives. The new executive will work directly with Medline and across the executive committee to help identify, prioritize, test and evaluate innovation initiatives and solutions. The head of innovation will report to Medline and join the executive committee.

According to Empire, the senior management changes come as the company enters the final phase of Project Sunrise, a three-year plan to simplify organizational structure and reduce cost. Launched in the fiscal 2017 fourth quarter, the effort targets at least $500 million in annualized benefits by fiscal 2020. Empire reported that 20% of that goal was realized in fiscal 2018, and another 30% to be realized in the current fiscal year.

"The heavy lifting of Project Sunrise is almost done, and I couldn't be happier with the exceptional progress the team continues to make. This is a significantly improved company from that of even a year ago," Medline said in a statement. "The time is right to set our sights on the next phase of growth, with leaders who will integrate and unify our efforts further, enhance execution and accelerate innovation for the long-term, all with the aim of thrilling our customers."

Also key to Empire’s growth is Sarah Joyce, who joined the company last June as senior vice president of e-commerce. In the role, she directs Sobeys' online strategy and oversees the retailer’s technology partnership with U.K. online grocer Ocado.

Overall, Sobeys owns, affiliates or franchises more than 1,500 stores in all 10 provinces under such banners as Sobeys, Safeway, IGA, Foodland, FreshCo, Thrifty Foods, Farm Boy and Lawtons Drugs. Its retail network also includes 350-plus fuel locations.

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