PARIS — In a major shakeup at the world’s second-largest retailer, Carrefour said on Thursday that Daniel Bernard, its chairman and chief executive for the last 13 years, has resigned.
Bernard is set to be replaced by Luc Vandevelde, the Belgian executive who oversaw the restructuring of Britain’s Marks & Spencer, who will become president of the supervisory board, and Jose-Louis Duran, Carrefour’s chief financial officer, who was named president of the management board.
The changes appear to validate speculation over the last few months that Carrefour’s controlling family shareholders had lost patience with Bernard’s attempts to stimulate its sales, especially at its core French hypermarkets.
Investors were particularly annoyed when Bernard issued a profit warning in October only two weeks after pledging to meet financial targets for 2004.
Vandevelde, 53, who gave up his position as chairman of Promodes after the French retailer merged with Carrefour in January 2000, has represented the Halley family’s interests on Carrefour’s board over the last year. The Halleys — former owners of Promodes — control 13 percent of Carrefour, with the March family owning about 4 percent and about 25 percent of the voting rights split between them.
Rumors have regularly surfaced over the last year that Vandevelde would replace Bernard. A polished, dynamic executive with a blunt style, Vandevelde competed with Carrefour during his time at Promodes and then went on to restructure Marks & Spencer as its chairman and ceo during its last run of difficulties in the Nineties. Despite immense skepticism that Vandevelde had the experience to run the British retailer, he confounded critics by simplifying its sourcing, slashing overheads and introducing new, more fashion-forward apparel collections. However, Marks & Spencer began to unwind once Vandevelde stepped down from day-to-day management and Roger Holmes took over as its ceo. Holmes was ousted last year and replaced by current ceo Stuart Rose, although the retailer continues to lose market share.
Carrefour’s merger with Promodes strengthened its position as the world’s number-two retailer behind Wal-Mart. If Wal-Mart’s U.S. operations are excluded, Carrefour actually is bigger than the Bentonville behemoth and, in most cases, has had longer and more consistent success abroad than has Wal-Mart. But the Carrefour-Promodes merger never resulted in the synergies originally forecast by Bernard and Carrefour has struggled over the last few years in its domestic market against increased competition from the likes of Auchan, Leclerc and deep-discount food retailers such as Aldi.
News of the management shuffle sent Carrefour stock up 2 percent to close at 40.24 euros, or $52.31 at current exchange, in trading on the Paris Bourse.
Carrefour said Bernard quit after the board decided to split the executive’s job in two parts, between a management board and supervisory board.
Bernard said he “didn’t wish to head the supervisory board, nor the management board, [so] I decided to leave.”
Joel Saveuse, who joined Carrefour as head of European operations only two months ago, also will leave as part of the reshuffle, Carrefour said.
The changes in structure and the executive appointments will be put up for approval at a general shareholders’ assembly in Paris in April.