AMSTERDAM — Ahold here said it has named John Rishton president and chief executive officer following his four-month stint as interim president and CEO.
Succeeding Rishton as chief financial officer is Kimberly Ross, who had been deputy CFO. Ross was also nominated to join the corporate executive board.
Rishton, 49, a former British Airways CFO who had joined Ahold in 2006, had been named interim CEO after the resignation of Anders Moberg, who had guided the company through a restructuring in the wake of its 2003 financial scandal. Rishton was known as a cost-cutting specialist who pushed for Ahold to quickly divest its weaker operations and drive gains in cash flow.
At least one analyst said he believes the selection of Rishton as CEO makes it more likely that the multinational retailer could seek to split its U.S. and European businesses, as some investors had previously pushed the company to do.
“His appointment does in fact make [a sale of the U.S. division] more likely in my view,” said Richard Withagen, an analyst with SNS Securities, Amsterdam. “I think that John Rishton will put more emphasis on value generation than on maintaining a large company. In addition, his limited experience in food retail implies that he is probably not emotionally attached as a true retailer would be.”
In the short term, however, Withagen said he sees business as usual at Ahold.
“The focus is on restructuring the U.S. chains, and a possible disposal would become an issue at a later stage,” he said.
Ahold USA, which includes Stop & Shop; Giant of Landover, Md.; Giant of Carlisle, Pa.; and the Peapod online grocery operation, generated about 74% of Ahold's $60 billion in sales last year. That volume included revenues from Tops, the Buffalo, N.Y.-based chain that Ahold has agreed to sell.
Patrick Roquas, an analyst with Rabo Securities, also based in Amsterdam, disagreed with Withagen about the potential sale of the U.S. business, however.
“We regard the appointment of John Rishton as a positive,” he told SN. “The recovery of the U.S. business is clearly priority No.1. Despite his relatively short experience in the business, [Rishton] is fully aware of the main value drivers in retail. We do not believe that his appointment makes a sale of U.S. retail more or less likely.”
Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, New York, also said he does not think Ahold plans any more asset sales in the U.S.
“Ahold successfully sold off the companies that had been having tough times in markets with declining employment and declining population,” he told SN.