One of the longest tenures in food retail leadership is scheduled to wind down this year, as Pierre-Olivier Beckers, a 30-year veteran of Delhaize Group, announced his plans to relinquish his title as chief executive officer.
Beckers has presided over a decade of growth at the Brussels-based company’s U.S. division, which — following the pending sale of Sweetbay, Harveys and Reid’s — includes the Hannaford Bros., Food Lion and Bottom Dollar Food banners.
John Rand, senior vice president in the Boston offices of Kantar Retail, said there may be a “general shift” occurring among supermarket CEOs, with the departure this year of both Beckers and Steve Burd, the longtime CEO of Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway, who retired as CEO in May.
“We may be going to see a lot of executives say, ‘I have reached that time, I don’t see the next transformative thing I can do — I have reached the logical pinnacle of my career, and it is time for me to move on,’” Rand said.
He said he’s not sure if that’s how Beckers feels after three decades at Delhaize Group — the last half of that as its CEO — but “15 years running an international company would tire me out,” Rand said.
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He credited Beckers with allowing the individual chains Delhaize operated to run largely autonomously for an extended time.
“They started the way a lot of companies do when they have bought multiple properties that are not obvious and contiguous, which is they just left them alone,” Rand said. “They were worth something on their own, so why destroy it?”
In describing the recent performance of the U.S. business, Beckers noted that both Hannaford and Food Lion were gaining momentum in the first quarter after uneven results in preceding months.
“Comparable-store sales growth of 1.9% was a further improved result compared to the second half of last year, especially if you consider that we were still running with around 50 basis points of deflation,” Beckers told analysts during a conference call. “Both Food Lion and, to a lower degree, Hannaford experienced significant positive real growth. Our profitability saw a strong recovery.”
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He credited some of the gains to the closure last year of several unprofitable Food Lion stores, but he also credited strong cost containment and execution of strategy.
He also said he “remains fully committed” to the company as it seeks a successor, and is in fact declining press interviews, including a request for an interview with SN.
“There will be no void of leadership,” Beckers said. “I am staying firmly at the helm until a smooth transition has taken place.”
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