Metro Inc. announces departure of its COO, Robert Sawyer


Metro Inc. has announced that Robert Sawyer, executive vice-president and chief operating officer since April 2009, will be leaving.

He will be headed to Quebec-based home improvement retailer Rona where he will take the role of president and chief executive officer, effective April 2013.

"Mr. Sawyer has played an important role in the success of Metro over the past 33 years and it's with regret that we learned of his decision to accept a new challenge with another company. We thank him for his contribution and wish him well in his new position," said Eric La Flèche, president and chief executive officer of Metro Inc. in a press release.

The succession plan of the company is being implemented and the heads of the Quebec and Ontario divisions will now be reporting to the CEO.

Prior to his role as COO, over his more than 30-year career at Metro, Sawyer held several positions of increasing responsibility including senior vice-president of the Quebec division and senior vice-president of the Ontario division where he led the turnaround of its performance.

Peter Sklar, analyst with BMO Capital Markets wrote in a note, “We view this as a 'slightly negative' development for Metro, as we viewed Mr. Sawyer as an effective and 'seasoned' veteran who had been employed at Metro for over 33 years, and played a significant operating role at the company.”

Sklar pointed out that over the last year, this is the second key executive Metro has lost.

Richard Dufresne, the former chief financial officer of Metro, departed about a year ago to assume the role of chief financial officer at George Weston.

Toronto retail consultant Ed Strapagiel said it's interesting Sawyer is going to Rona as another home improvement retailer, Lowe’s recently named  Sylvain Prud’homme, a former senior operations executive from Loblaw as its new CEO. "Quite a coincidence. But perhaps that’s all it is, as both companies want strong operations leaders to control costs, and grocery with its complex logistics is a good training ground."

Following the announcement of Sawyer's appointment, Robert Chevrier, executive chairman of Rona's board of directors said:``It became increasingly clear to us that to ensure a successful transformation, we needed to hire a specialist in retail and distribution operations."

``Robert has the operational and turnaround expertise needed to put Rona back on the path to profitable growth and increase value for all of our stakeholders.''

Rona, which has its headquarters in the Montreal-area community of Boucherville, Que., has grown to nearly 30,000 employees across the country through a combination of acquisitions, partnerships and internal growth.

Chevrier said Sawyer will ``play a key role in simplifying and optimizing the Rona business model, particularly with respect to merchandising, pricing strategy, supply chain, service to consumers and service to Rona dealers.''

He said Rona's acting CEO, Dominique Boies, will assist Sawyer and be on the corporation's management committee.

Boies had been Rona's chief financial officer when he was named interim CEO after the company's long-time chief executive, Robert Dutton, stepped aside in November.

Many of Rona's investors have expressed frustration with the company's returns in recent years, especially since it rejected a takeover attempt by Lowe's last year. The U.S. home improvement company has a relatively small presence in Canada and an acquisition of Rona would have greatly increased its market share.

Metro, which has 65,000 employees, 600 food stores and 250 drug stores under several banners, said the position of chief operating officer–often seen as a potential successor to a CEO–won't be filled after Sawyer's departure.

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