Associated Wholesalers, Inc. (AWI) announced June 13 that president and chief executive officer J. Christopher Michael is retiring from the company after 41 years of service. He has served as chief executive of the Robesonia, PA co-op since 1980. Veteran wholesale executive Matthew Saunders has been named president and CEO of AWI, effective immediately.
AWI also announced that the its board of directors has decided to pursue a sale of its White Rose Food subsidiary, which it acquired in 2006. The company said this action is a key part of steps it is taking to set a strategic direction that will provide the cooperative with the opportunity to refocus on AWI’s core legacy business – a business that was built on the entrepreneurial spirit of AWI’s members.
Michael will remain with AWI as chairman emeritus to help oversee a smooth leadership transition. Saunders joined AWI as executive vice president and chief operating officer in 2012. He previously served in leadership roles at Merchants Distributors Inc. and Supervalu.
Joyce Fasula and Mike Rothwell, chair and vice chair of the AWI board, respectively, said, “On behalf of the entire AWI board, we want to thank Chris for his extraordinary contributions to AWI and wish him well on his retirement. In his 34 years as CEO, Chris has played an important role in building AWI into one of the nation’s leading wholesale cooperatives. We are also pleased to have an executive as talented as Matt ready to assume the CEO role. Matt is a proven leader with extensive experience in our industry, and we are confident that he is the right person to steer AWI into its next phase of growth and development.”
The AWI board has formed a special committee to pursue a sale of the White Rose business and has retained Lazard Middle Market as its investment banker to assist in this process. White Rose Food is one of the largest independent wholesale food distributor in the New York metropolitan area.
Regarding the White Rose decision, Fasula and Rothwell said, “After extensive analysis, our board has determined that this is the right time to identify a suitable buyer for White Rose. Through this sale process, we intend to position White Rose for a fresh beginning under a new owner. A sale of White Rose will give AWI the opportunity to get back to our co-op roots, with a sharp focus on growing the core business.”