Rona hires senior exec from Metro to be next CEO, starting in April

MONTREAL – Rona Inc. (TSX:RON) is hiring a veteran of Canada’s grocery industry to be its next president and CEO and given him the task of simplifying the embattled home improvement retailer’s business and returning it to profitable growth.

Robert Sawyer will become Rona’s chief executive next month after more than 30 years in grocery retailing, including nearly four years in the No. 2 management position at Metro Inc. (TSX:MRU) — another large Quebec-based national retailer.

“It became increasingly clear to us that to ensure a successful transformation, we needed to hire a specialist in retail and distribution operations,” said Robert Chevrier, executive chairman of Rona’s board of directors.

“Robert has the operational and turnaround expertise needed to put Rona back on the path to profitable growth and increase value for all of our stakeholders.”

Rona, which has its headquarters in the Montreal-area community of Boucherville, Que., has grown to nearly 30,000 employees across the country through a combination of acquisitions, partnerships and internal growth.

Chevrier said Sawyer will “play a key role in simplifying and optimizing the Rona business model, particularly with respect to merchandising, pricing strategy, supply chain, service to consumers and service to Rona dealers.”

He said Rona’s acting CEO, Dominique Boies, will assist Sawyer and be on the corporation’s management committee.

Boies had been Rona’s chief financial officer when he was named interim CEO after the company’s long-time chief executive, Robert Dutton, stepped aside in November.

Many of Rona’s investors have expressed frustration with the company’s returns in recent years, especially since it rejected a takeover attempt by Lowe’s last year. The U.S. home improvement company has a relatively small presence in Canada and an acquisition of Rona would have greatly increased its market share.

Metro, which has 65,000 employees, 600 food stores and 250 drug stores under several banners, said the position of chief operating officer — often seen as a potential successor to a CEO — won’t be filled after Sawyer’s departure.

The heads of the grocery company’s Quebec and Ontario divisions will now report to Metro CEO Eric La Fleche, the company said in announcing Sawyer’s departure.

“Mr. Sawyer has played an important role in the success of Metro over the past 33 years and it’s with regret that we learned of his decision to accept a new challenge with another company. We thank him for his contribution and wish him well in his new position,” said La Fleche said in a statement.

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