Blog: Dean BestAll change at grocery retail's top table

Dean Best | 24 November 2008

Changing CEO in the middle of the worst economic downturn for decades could be seen as an almighty gamble.

Some, however, may see such a move as a risk worth taking. Last week, Carrefour, the world's second-largest retailer, signalled it shared that thinking.

The French retail giant will see Nestle veteran Lars Olofsson take the hot seat in January, signalling the end of a tense time at the top of the company.

Olofsson will replace José Luis Durán, who has faced months of speculation over Carrefour's performance. Carrefour's growth in emerging markets has not assuaged concerns over its domestic business, and despite moves to lower prices and focus on the company's namesake banner, it seems the changes were not enough for Durán to remain in the top job.

After 32 years at Nestle, Olofsson faces a challenging task at Carrefour. Competition is mounting at home as French consumers cut back, while Olofsson will also be aware of the need to keep investing in emerging markets like China and Brazil – as arch-rival Wal-Mart prepares to flex its muscles overseas.

The US retailer also announced a change at the top last week, with Mike Duke, the head of its international business, set to replace Lee Scott as president and CEO in February.

The appointment comes at a time of strength for Wal-Mart, which has benefited as the economic downturn has hit consumer spending in a number of its markets, not just in the US.

While Scott gets to go out on a high after nine years at the helm, Duke's appointment to the top job is a further sign that Wal-Mart is looking to increase its focus on its international businesses, particularly in more buoyant markets.


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