The five “Executives to Watch” profiled in this week's cover feature all face some significant challenges and opportunities in the year ahead.
SN editors selected the five industry leaders based on our sense that they have the potential to make important contributions to food retailing in 2009 and beyond. In interviews, these executives explain how they are helping guide their companies to new levels of success.
Their challenges in most cases are compounded in the short term by the economic downturn, but one of the things each of the profile subjects has in common is the vision to look well past the pressures of the current financial crisis for long-term solutions that will serve their companies well into the future.
They also share other attributes that are important to successful retail leaders, such as creativity, confidence in their abilities, and a focus on serving customers.
Interestingly, the subjects of these profiles have taken distinctly varied paths to converge at their current positions.
(Click on "Five Industry Leaders Poised to Make a Difference" for an introduction and links to the profiles.)
One — Diane Dietz of Safeway — spent her entire career in the CPG industry before joining the retailer last year. That's an increasingly common occurrence, as retailers seek to tap the consumer-expertise that packaged goods companies engender.
Sander van der Laan, who was named chief executive officer of Ahold's Giant-Carlisle banner last year, also got his start in the CPG industry with Unilever in his native Netherlands before joining Ahold's Albert Heijn chain.
Another of the executives — Joan Kavanaugh of Aldi — had fully expected to spend her career in the CPG industry but found herself drawn to retail during the course of her interviews with Aldi. She joined the company right out of college 18 years ago, and hasn't looked back.
Dan Portnoy, who helped revitalize the Kings Super Markets banner in New Jersey, also spent time with private-label firms Daymon Worldwide and Cott Beverages before he joined Winn-Dixie to help that chain redefine itself in the market after emerging from bankruptcy.
Sweetbay's new president and chief operating officer, Mike Vail, has worked since college in food retailing in a variety of positions split fairly evenly between the operations side and the merchandising side. With the strong background of his training at Hannaford Bros., he helped create a new chain almost from scratch, and now he runs it.
At a time when recruiting for retail executive positions is more important than ever — Food Marketing Institute is devoting its annual conference to the topic this year — the executives profiled on these pages can serve as living advertisements for the interesting opportunities available to those who choose a career in the supermarket sector.
It's never been that easy for food retailers to lure management talent from other industries — although the massive layoffs of the past year may be helping somewhat — but increasingly the word is getting out that supermarket companies can offer exciting, challenging and rewarding careers.
As the 2009 Executives to Watch can attest, there are many paths that lead talented individuals to develop a passion for food retailing.