Pierre-Olivier Beckers, chief executive officer of Delhaize Group, isn’t the kind of leader who barks orders or demands that his troops assemble in a rigid formation.
Instead, Beckers champions a softer style of command, guiding autonomous operating companies to adopt a set of collective strategic principles as they see fit, then making sure those companies share their successes with one another in an attempt to continually improve. The principles, in brief, encourage Delhaize companies to be good places to work, and encouragetheir people be goodto one another and to theircommunities.
This decentralized approach — valuing innovation, local decision-making and a continuous evolution of ideas — is a rare one among supermarket companies as large as Delhaize and, observers said, is a major reason behind the momentum at its U.S. chains: Hannaford Bros., Food Lion and Sweetbay.
“That collaborative environment is the hallmark of what Delhaize does differently than any other supermarket company,” said Mitchell Corwin, an analyst following Delhaize for Morningstar, Chicago.
Delhaize officials said Beckers’ commitment to his style — particularly his emphasis on Delhaize being what he calls a “learning company” — stems from a thorough understanding of, and appreciation for, the food retailing business.
“As one of the descendents of the founding fathers, [Beckers] is convinced that being a grocer is probably the most beautiful job on earth, because it touches thousands, millions of people’s lives every single day,” Geert Verellen, Delhaize’s director of investor relations, told SN.
Verellen described Beckers’ leadership style as “down-toearth and collective,” drawing on his experience working in all phases of the grocery business. Beckers began working in the industry in 1982 as a store manager for a bakery chain in Belgium and joined Delhaize in 1983, spending three years in the United States as a Food Lion store manager. After his return to Belgium, he broadened his retail experience as a buyer, director of purchasing, member of the executive committee and executive vice president in charge of international activities. He was named CEO in 1999.
Delhaize under his watch has expanded its holdings in the U.S., with the Hannaford, Food Lion and Sweetbay local banners developing distinct brands and increasingly precise local positioning. According to Corwin, economic woes in the U.S. and recent competitive activity in Europe have threatened the momentum at Delhaize, and will provide a test of Beckers’ leadership in the coming months.
“They’ve done a good job in segmenting the Food Lion banner, but they still tend to cater more to a cost-conscious consumer, so in my mind, there’s a risk for them shifting to lower-price formats,” Corwin said. “There’s a delicate balance they have to hit — of pushing through inflation while being cognizant of keeping prices within reasonable distance of the competition. How well they execute that balance will really show how well Food Lion can do.”
— JON SPRINGER