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Alain Bouchard is taking on a ‘new role’ as founder and executive chairman of the board of the 12,600-store chain. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
Alain Bouchard is taking on a ‘new role’ as founder and executive chairman of the board of the 12,600-store chain. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Couche-Tard’s Alain Bouchard hands-off chief executive role Add to ...

Convenience-store king Alain Bouchard is stepping down from the top job at his Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. empire and handing over the reins to chief operating officer Brian Hannasch.

Laval, Que.-based Couche-Tard said on Tuesday that Mr. Bouchard is taking on a “new role” as founder and executive chairman of the board of the 12,600-store chain.

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The change will allow him to devote more time to the company’s acquisition strategy and assess new industry opportunities, Mr. Bouchard, 65, said on a media conference call.

“I intend to be a very active executive chairman,” he said.

“I must confess I have the same sense of excitement about retail that I had when I founded this organization 34 years ago.”

The announcement was made as Couche-Tard unveiled third-quarter net earnings of $182.3-million (U.S.) or 96 cents per share, up 28 per cent from $142.2-million or 75 cents per share in the year-earlier period.

On an adjusted basis, earnings were $175-million or 92 cents, compared with $153-million or 81 cents.

Revenues fell 3.3 per cent to $11.1-billion in the third quarter, partly due to the divestiture of a liquid gas unit, lower U.S. fuel prices and losses on the conversion of European and Canadian currencies into U.S. dollars.

Mr. Hannasch, 47, has been Couche-Tard COO since May of 2010. Before that he was vice-president of U.S. operations.

The Iowa-born executive who spearheaded Couche-Tard’s U.S. expansion was widely regarded as the likely successor to Mr. Bouchard.

Mr. Hannasch had the inside track on the CEO job starting about two years ago, said Mr. Bouchard.

Mr. Hannasch said he will relocate to Montreal from home base in Columbus, Ind., in September when he starts in his new job but that he took an apartment in downtown Montreal last November.

He does not speak French but said he intends to take lessons.

“The reality is I am an American and English is my native tongue,” he said.

“We picked the best candidate to manage a company in 21 countries” and English is the language of work in pretty well all of them, said Mr. Bouchard.

Mr. Bouchard, 65, had indicated recently that a change was needed because he was spending most of his time travelling to monitor operations at Couche-Tard’s far-flung locations, including the United States, Scandinavia, the Baltics, Poland and Russia.

He and his three partners built Couche-Tard into a global convenience-store operator, starting with just one store in Laval more than 30 years ago.

Last year, Mr. Bouchard made Forbes’ famous rich-persons list, with an estimated net worth of $1-billion.

“I have had the privilege of realizing a life-long dream. Of developing, together with extremely talented colleagues, a great, global convenience store and fuel chain we can all be proud of,” said Mr. Bouchard.

“Now, after more than three decades as president and CEO, it’s time to continue my journey with Couche-Tard from a new perspective. I see this change as an evolution. It will let me invest more of my time in acquisitions and new industry opportunities. I will still be at the office on a daily basis, will take part in the results review every four weeks and the budgeting process. I will also take part in the strategic discussions and serve as a mentor and coach to our next generation of leaders.”

Mr. Hannasch is credited with helping build Couche-Tard’s presence as a dominant player in the U.S.

He was vice-president of operations for the U.S. midwest Bigfoot chain when Couche-Tard acquired it in 2001 and he stayed on, climbing the corporate ladder to become senior vice-president for North America before his appointment as COO.

The company says he played an active role in taking Couche-Tard from 1,300 stores and 11,000 employees in 2003 to today’s 12,600 units and about 80,000 staff worldwide.

“I am both humbled and excited by the opportunity to lead Couche-Tard, particularly in a landscape that offers challenges and unprecedented opportunities,” said Mr. Hannasch.

“We will stand firm by the DNA that has made Couche-Tard what it is today, and continue to act decisively to maintain our strong competitive position.”

Mr. Bouchard’s last major acquisition was 2012’s $2.6-billion purchase of Norwegian oil giant Statoil ASA’s convenience-store and retail fuel network in northern and eastern Europe.

The COO responsibilities will be shared by Couche-Tard’s executive management team, the company said.

The management and board changes are to take effect Sept. 24 at the annual shareholders’ meeting.

Couche-Tard also announced a three-way stock split on Tuesday, with “post-split” trading set to begin April 23.

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