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Jim Donald, the former Wal-Mart, Albertsons and Safeway executive who has led Pathmark Stores as the company’s CEO since 1996, has decided to leave the supermarket retailers and join the Starbucks Coffee Company as president of Starbucks North America.

Donald is generally given credit for helping to rescue Pathmark from being over-leveraged and under-shopped just a few years ago, and piloting its emergence as a public company in 2000.

Donald will succeed Howard Behar, the former head of Starbucks Coffee International who came out of retirement to run the North American division of the company in 2001. He will report to Orin Smith, president and CEO of Starbucks Coffee Company.

"Jim's 32 years of experience in the retail and food industry will be of great value to Starbucks as we increase our offerings and expand our store base in North America," Smith said "He has exceptionally strong skills in running a multiple-unit distribution system as well as in-depth knowledge of the food industry."

Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ chairman, said, "Jim is an exceptional leader and a world-class merchant. He is well known for his people-oriented style, which makes him a perfect fit with our culture, values and guiding principles."
KC's View:
We saw Jim Donald speak at Raphel Marketing’s Supermarket College just a couple of months ago, and were mightily impressed with his passion, energy and enthusiasm for the supermarket business in general, and the associates who work at Pathmark in particular. This is certainly a big loss for Pathmark, and a big gain for Starbucks.

The addition of Donald to Starbucks’ executive suite speaks volumes about the company’s intentions about both retail and the foodservice industry. Just yesterday, MNB reported on how the company continues to work to develop new foodservice concepts that it hopes will launch it into an entirely new realm.

Clearly, Starbucks is looking in new directions. It is going to put cafes in every new Target that gets opened, and just yesterday it announced that it has signed a deal with Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle that will allow it to open freestanding 900-square-foot Starbucks licensed locations inside five of its stores. And, it announced that Briazz, the Seattle-based sandwich chain, will supply sandwiches and soups to 40 Chicago-area Starbucks stores in a test program for both companies.

None of this is new strategy. But it seems to have extraordinary momentum.

Jim Donald’s move to Starbucks suggests that as aggressive and ambitious as the coffee retailer has been, there are plenty of surprises still in store for the companies that compete with it.