business news in context, analysis with attitude

Supervalu announced yesterday that Pete Van Helden, executive vice president of retail operations, will be leaving the company this spring, and will be succeeded by Kevin Holt, described as “a former Meijer, Inc., executive who has significant experience leading teams in similar turnaround environments.”

According to the official announcement, “This was a mutually beneficial decision that comes at the right time for both Supervalu and Van Helden, as the company continues to implement its business transformation strategy and as Van Helden moves on to opportunities that will better utilize his strengths.” Van Helden began his career with Albertsons in 1978, and moved over to Supervalu when it acquired much of the Albertsons chain in 2006.

As for Holt, here’s what Supervalu has to say about him:

“During his 13-year career with Meijer, Holt held a number of leadership positions, including roles in information technology and strategic planning. He successfully improved sales and profits, increased productivity and efficiency, and strengthened customer engagement. After leaving Meijer as the executive vice president of retail operations in 2007, Holt spent three years with Sears Holding Company, where he went on to become executive vice president and president of stores. He most recently served as president of Hudsonville Ice Cream and Kilwin's Quality Confections in Michigan.”
KC's View:
Betcha those three years with Sears Holdings just warm the hearts of the retail teams with which he will be working.

But let’s be serious for a moment.

This could be a case of CEO Craig Herkert continuing to clear the decks and install his own people as he tries to remold Supervalu to his own vision. Maybe van Helden simply did not fit the mold.

It could be a case of Herkert trying to buy time. People one step down from the CEO’s office often are most vulnerable when a company and a CEO are in trouble ... by firing them, they can create the illusion of change when what’s really happening is the big stall. (This could be even more important now that Herkert has been implicated in the Walmart Mexico bribery scandal - since he got the Supervalu job at least in part because of his work for Walmart in Mexico.)

Or, it could be a case of simply getting rid of executives with Albertsons pedigrees. Over the years, one of the consistent complaints I’ve heard is that in the wake of Supervalu’s acquisition of many Albertsons stores, it was the Albertsons people who ended up in control of the company. So maybe Herkert is trying to rectify that problem. could be some combination of all three.

Regardless, one has to wonder if Herkert is simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.