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Belgium-based Delhaize Group announced this morning the simultaneous departure of Roland Smith, who took on the job as CEO of Delhaize America exactly a year ago, and naming of Frans Muller to succeed Pierre-Olivier Beckers as CEO of Delhaize Group.

Beckers' retirement was announced last May, and so the naming of a replacement was expected. Beckers will remain with Delhaize as a non-executive member of the board of directors.

According to this morning's announcement, no replacement for Smith has been named, and "the company's U.S. operations will report to the Delhaize Group CEO."

Muller, Delhaize says in its announcement, "has more than 15 years of senior leadership experience in retail and brings to Delhaize Group a strong track record of managing complex, global organizations.Most recently, Mr. Muller served as Member of the Management Board of Metro AG, an international retailing company, and CEO of Metro Cash & Carry, with direct responsibility for approximately 740 stores in 29 countries and sales of EUR31.6 billion. His extensive operational experience, from supply chain management to procurement, and proven ability to drive growth will be critical to Delhaize Group's continued momentum."
KC's View:
Hard to know at this point what to make of these new changes at Delhaize America. It has been a tumultuous year for the US operations, what with the retirement of Ron Hodge, the appointment of Smith, the shifting around of top management at the various banners and then the decision to sell the Sweetbay, Reid's, and Harvey's chains.

The announcement thanks Smith "for his significant contributions to the success of Delhaize America, particularly the energy and focus he brought to the business," but it has only been 12 months ... so one has to wonder if he has been forced out, whether because of some dissatisfaction with his leadership or just because Muller believes that management needs to be streamlined. (One also has to wonder if Muller has the expertise to oversee US businesses.)

Bloomberg Businessweek notes that there is at least some analyst speculation that Smith is leaving because he wanted the top job and did not get it. It also quotes Andrew Gwynn, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, as questioning the wisdom of Muller's hiring: “Though Delhaize clearly saw something in the man -- they flag his international record along with his understanding of the supply chain -- his critics would accuse him of being ‘asleep at the wheel’ when he ran Cash & Carry," suggesting that it was "a business that did well in new markets, but struggled to mature gracefully."

Interesting times for Delhaize, a company that for a long time had consistent, stable management, and that now is experiencing considerable upheaval. The company has to be careful that its competition does not take advantage of this upheaval to make market share inroads.