Updated: Rona board of directors being renovated as major shareholders back reform drive

MONTREAL – Rona is shaking up its board of directors by adding a new chairman and several members from outside of Quebec as its moves to avoid a fractious showdown with shareholders at the spring annual meeting.

The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec and Invesco Canada have agreed to support the slate of Rona candidates.

The Toronto-based Invesco, which owns about one-tenth of Rona Inc. (TSX:RON) shares, had called for change after the chain reported dismal financial results last week and its long-time chief executive resigned.

Invesco had supported the unsuccessful $1.76-billion takeover attempt launched last year by Lowe’s Companies Inc. (NYSE:LOW), the second-largest U.S. home improvement retailer after Home Depot Inc. (NYSE:HD).

Rona’s new chairman is Robert Chevrier, 69, who has held similar posts at other Quebec-based companies including Richelieu Hardware (TSX:RCH) — a North American company based in the Montreal area that sells to retailers like Rona.

Rona’s current chairman, Robert Pare, will remain on Rona’s board but two other directors are resigning immediately. Ultimately, there will be eight new members as on the Rona board, which will be enlarged by two positions to 14 directors.

“The corporation is now at a critical inflection point in its history where it has to refocus on its core competencies to unlock value built over the years for its shareholders, dealers-owners and other stakeholders,” Chevrier said Monday.

He thanked Pare for his efforts and said his inclusion in the revamped board will be of benefit to Rona.

The company announced Monday it has hired a consulting firm to accelerate progress on strategic priorities announced in December, when the company said it would continue to look for ways to improve profitability. Details of that review will be announced Feb. 21.

Industry observers are eagerly awaiting the results of that process for signs of progress in turning around the struggling Canadian home-improvement retailer.

Derek Dley of Canaccord Genuity said that while the board changes are positive, they don’t really change the overall thesis for Rona.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but you’re still facing a very weak Canadian renovation spending market and in that context there still remains some headwinds for Rona,” he said from Vancouver.

Dley believes Rona will replace interim CEO Dominique Boies, who was selected when long-time chief executive Robert Dutton resigned last fall. The analyst also doesn’t believe the company will ultimately sell to American rival Lowe’s, whose acquisition bid was thwarted by the old Rona board.

“I think they’re still going to go down the path of pursuing their strategic priorities and looking to turn margins around, focusing on rolling out smaller proximity stores and kind of going that route,” he added.

Rona said four new directors will join its board immediately, including a former head of TD Bank’s insurance arm, and Guy Dufresne, a former CEO of ArcelorMittal Mines Canada, who at 71 exceeds Rona’s previous mandatory retirement age of 70. One unidentified new member will be nominated for election by shareholders, while two existing members won’t seek re-election.

The company said it wants to increase the number of board members from outside of Quebec, but it wasn’t immediately clear the size of that shift.

Rona currently has nearly 30,000 employees and 830 locations under its banner, giving Rona a bigger reach in Canada than Home Depot or Lowe’s, the No. 1 and No. 2 home improvement retailers in the United States.

Home Depot has just 180 stores across Canada and Lowe’s has about 31 Canadian locations, out of 1,745 across North America.

At Richelieu, which manufactures and distributes hardware products for the home improvement and manufacturing industries, Chevrier’s departure creates a vacancy that will be filled by Marc Poulin, president and CEO of Sobeys Inc.

“We wish Robert Chevrier the greatest success in his new responsibilities with Rona, a company we have been proud to count among our customers for several years,” said Richard Lord, Richelieu’s president and chief executive.

Rona shares gained 30 cents or about 2.6 per cent to $11.80 on Monday — well below its level after the Lowe’s takeover bid became public and before the U.S. retailer withdrew from the attempt.

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