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Craig Herkert, the former Walmart executive hired by Supervalu in 2009 to reshape the company as a low price retailer, has been fired, effective immediately.

He will be replaced for the time being by Wayne Sales, the Supervalu chairman, who will now take on the additional titles of president/CEO. Sales has been non-executive chairman of the company since 2010 and on the board since 2006.

The change comes after a tumultuous few weeks for Supervalu, highlighted by underwhelming quarterly sales and profit numbers, the announcement that all or part of the company was for sale, and then last week's revelation that Herkert and three other senior executives were being given retention bonuses and stock options.
KC's View:
The sighs of relief you are hearing come from Supervalu front line employees all over the country who are thrilled that Herkert has been shown the door, who have been worried for a long time that he had very little sense of the company's front lines, and who have been convinced of this fact by the company's behaviors over the past couple of weeks.

I know this because I'm already getting the emails from people who are happy about the change, though I do not get the sense that they are persuaded that the ironically named Sales is the answer.

Nor should they be. I have no idea if Sales is a long-term response to Supervalu's problems, or if he is just keeping the chair warm until they find another answer. (My guess would be the latter, but I am guessing. I also have gotten several emails this morning asking if somehow Jim Donald could be persuaded to return to the supermarket business and run the company. I can't imagine that this is remotely possible ... and as his friend, I can't imagine that this would be a good thing for him to do.)

But here's what we have to remember in the wake of the Herkert firing. He was hired by the company's board of directors, the same board that gave him a retention bonus just a week ago, the same board that - I presume - knew about and approved every move he made.

Maybe they did not know about every move. He probably did not have to tell them when he told staffers that they would henceforth have to pay for their coffee and would not have access to free plastic utensils in the cafeteria. But they probably did know that Herkert had told the employees, when he said that there would be no bonuses, that he maintained that bonuses were an ineffective way of getting better performance. A contention he conveniently forgot when he took the retention bonus, a move that earned him utter disdain from front line personnel and middle management.

I come not to bury Craig Herkert, nor to praise him. I just think that when the chairman of the board rides into town, suggesting people he's on a white horse and he's going to save them, one has to be cognizant of the fact that he was complicit in getting the company to where it is.

Sales is quoted this morning as saying: "In my new role, I will work closely with our leadership team to improve our sales and earnings trajectory and generate long-term shareholder value, focusing relentlessly on identifying factors that will drive meaningful improvements in our strategy execution and overall performance."

Tell you what he ought to do first. bring back free coffee and free plastic utensils. Just as a starter. And then, he better make clear to the people on the front lines that he understands that Supervalu is only as strong as their performance, that he is there to support them, and that he has seen the light through the residue of a horrific storm that has left company morale in shambles.

Though based on his statements this morning, I have little confidence that he will do any of this. The prepared comments sound as if they could have come from Herkert, and a lot of people seem to feel that the only reason the change was made is that Herkert became radioactive.

Maybe the change will be enough. I hope so, for the sake of all the people who work for Supervalu or are served by it.