If John Rishton was the leader to get Ahold's financial house in order and into fighting shape, then Dick Boer is the one to take the fight to the world.
Named chief executive officer of the Amsterdam-based retailer last October, Boer is a veteran Ahold executive expected to take the company — buoyed by strong operations in the U.S. and in Europe — into the “next phase” of its growth, with acquisitions, new territories and new formats ahead. Boer succeeded Rishton, whose attention to rebuilding Ahold's store banners and cash position left Boer with the keys to a Ferrari.
“If you look back at four years ago, we were certainly focusing much more on developing our brands [and] repositioning brands,” Boer said in a presentation earlier this year. “Now we start to benefit from the role and the position we have in our markets.”
“Compared to his predecessor, we expect Dick to focus more on accelerating growth within the existing operations and to be a bit more aggressive regarding acquisitions,” said Patrick Roquas, an analyst following Ahold for Rabobank.
Boer's strategy for growing Ahold is built upon what he calls six pillars — three to create growth and another three to enable growth.
The first group includes efforts to increase customer loyalty, drive innovation and enter new markets. The second group of pillars is focused internally and includes simplifying the business, including reducing costs; fostering corporate responsibility; and developing talent.
“I wouldn't underestimate today what these six strategic pillars are bringing to an organization like ours,” Boer said in a conference call last month. “I'm sure it will create a lot of energy in the organization and also focus, which is the most important thing.”
Boer's reign so far has included few big headlines but steady progress on a number of initiatives supporting his growth platform. The purchase of five New Jersey Foodtown stores for its Stop & Shop banner was a small deal but expected to be a profitable one, observers noted. “It's a good, smart move for Stop & Shop,” said Matt Casey, whose firm, Matthew P. Casey & Associates, provides supermarket site expertise. “They bought some good stores in some good locations.”
Boer prior to the acquisition acknowledged Ahold was “actively looking for growth opportunities where we see a strategic fit, the price is right, and we can integrate smoothly. Thanks to our balance sheet and strong customer rating, businesses we are in a good position to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.”
In format development, Ahold is at work creating a compact hypermarket for Europe and recently rolled out a refreshed version of the Giant To Go convenience store in Pennsylvania. Talent is being developed — and acquired. The company recently named James McCann, an executive with experience at Sainsbury, Tesco and Carrefour, to a new role as a development officer, and is looking to name a new chief financial officer shortly.
Ahold banners are also known for strong loyalty programs and related advances in technology such as the U-scan system.
Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, New York, said Ahold has been leading beneficiary of its competitors' struggles in the Northeast U.S., including Shaw's in New England and A&P in the New York and Mid-Atlantic areas.
“Dick's a leader who really understands the consumer,” Flickinger said. “Ahold has done a great job investing in price and promotion, and benefited as much as anybody in capitalizing on collapse of A&P banners and taking sales from Shaw's.”