Blog: Fortune favours the brave

Catherine Sleep | 29 August 2006

The highest echelons of a major food corporation can be a cold and lonely place, and last week saw no fewer than three head honchos voluntarily hand in the keys to their company cars. Perhaps most surprising was the departure of McDonald’s chief operating officer Mike Roberts, widely tipped as successor to Jim Skinner as CEO. If you want a career in the fastfood sector, being the CEO of McDonald’s is about as good as it gets. But Roberts quite clearly wasn’t lovin’ it no more.

Over in Japan, Yasuyuki Higuchi has also decided to part company with Daiei just a few months after taking up presidency of the beleaguered retailer. Higuchi has been guarded concerning his departure, but it is believed he feels his role is undermined by the heavy involvement of major shareholder Marubeni in Daiei’s turnaround campaign.

In contrast, Pick ‘n Pay CEO Sean Summers has cheerfully given interviews since last week’s announcement that he was taking early retirement from the South African retailer next March. This came as a bolt from the blue for his colleagues, the media, the stock market and the food industry at large, as he has been with the company for 34 years and is only 53.

Despite this, his exit feels like a ‘good news story’. For a start, the news comes after a sustained period of strong shareholder value and corporate growth, so Summers can look back with pride. Furthermore, plans for his succession are already in place, with seasoned Pick ‘n Pay exec Nick Badminton lined up to take the helm. Finally, Summers has resisted trotting out the hackneyed line about spending more time with his family, instead quite frankly acknowledging he’s had a range of offers and is considering how he might like to spend his time. It takes courage to walk away from the goose that laid the golden egg, but as Summers said himself, “Fortune favours the brave”.


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