Taking Stock

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More Merchandising Instability For AUSA As Andrew Iacobucci Leaves Organization

The truth be told, Ahold USA hasn’t gotten its merchandising leadership right since Jeff Martin left the company in June 2012. It’s always difficult for any team to replace one of its stars, but after almost five years you would think a global organization such Ahold would have done a better job.

With the recent resignation of EVP-merchandising Andrew Iacobucci, the Carlisle, PA-based merchant is once again without an executive who possesses the prime time merchandising credentials you’d expect from a $26 billion company. Iacobucci reportedly left to become the chief merchandising officer at large foodservice distributor US Foods.

While it seems clear that the former Loblaw’s executive left on his own, could it be that Iacobucci felt that he might not have been the favorite if Ahold USA and Delhaize America choose one overall chief merchant later this year? Or, was he just frustrated after only nine months by the continuing dysfunctionalism of the merchandising department?

Named to replace Iacobucci is the venerable Don Sussman, who had been president of the company’s New York Metro Stop & Shop unit since November 2011. Sussman’s a true pro, having worked in almost every aspect of the supermarket business in his 37 years with Pathmark and Ahold USA. But much like another former AUSA merchandising chief, Mark McGowan (now president of Stop & Shop New England), Sussman will be playing out of position.

Of course, there are more than a few trade observers who believe that Sussman’s new role is that of a placeholder waiting for more integration changes to occur soon. And, one of those changes could be that AUSA’s largest banner – Stop & Shop – becomes one operating division (as it once was) with New York Metro and New England no longer separate entities.

Why does it seem so hard for an organization as large and powerful as Ahold USA to find the right leadership at arguably the most important position in its lineup? A nearly five-year run of incongruity like this one would adversely impact any retail organization.

In other moves related to Iacobucci’s departure, Bob Yager will be rejoining the Stop & Shop New York Metro division as senior VP and division lead where he will oversee day-to-day operations of the divisional leadership team. Yager, who spent many years in store operations in the Metro NY market, was most recently with Ahold Delhaize’s newly created Retail Business Services (RBS) division as senior vice president of supply chain.

Additionally, Nick Bertram, Ahold USA’s senior VP-merchandising strategy and support, will expand his responsibilities, including day-to-day merchandising operations, the ongoing integration work with Delhaize America and vendor collaboration. Bertram has been with Ahold USA for nearly four years and is a key component in the company’s merchandising operations and strategy.

Just before presstime, Ahold Delhaize released the sales portion of its fourth quarter trading statement. In the U.S., comp sales at its Ahold banners were down 0.2 percent (ex gas) while Delhaize America’s comp store revenues for its Food LIon and Hannaford units grew 2.2 percent. The full financial release, including earnings, will be out in about a month.

And there’s the promotion of Roger Wheeler to president of the aforementioned RBS unit which will support the local brands of Ahold USA and Delhaize America, including Food Lion, Giant/Landover, Giant/Carlisle, Hannaford, Martin’s, Peapod, Stop & Shop New England and Stop & Shop New York Metro. RBS was created last year several months after the merger became official in July by Ahold USA and Delhaize America to provide cost-effective, best-in-class support services to both organizations’ local brands. It is comprised of associates in various support groups within the organization and is a key service provider for the brands. In this new role, Wheeler will report to Kevin Holt, COO of Ahold USA, and Frans Muller, acting COO for Delhaize America.

Wheeler has an extensive background in the supermarket industry with more than 20 years of experience in retail operations, category management, supply chain and project management. For the past year, Wheeler has been the U.S. lead for the integration management office, helping to coordinate the merger of Ahold USA and Delhaize America. He has held a number of roles during his time with Stop & Shop and Ahold USA, including senior VP of supply chain and third party management, Oracle program leader, and VP of meat and seafood.

Wheeler is going to be a very busy man. At the end of the day, he will be the quarterback when further consolidation occurs in all departments excluding store operations and merchandising. And it will be largely on his watch that we will be able to gauge how much of the more than $350 million in anticipated synergy savings Ahold Delhaize can achieve over the next 12 months in the U.S.

At least he won’t be responsible for selling more stuff. That will be Ahold Delhaize’s biggest challenge.