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Rona taps ’turnaround’ specialist as next CEO

Robert Sawyer will become CEO of home-improvement retailer Rona next month.

Rona

Rona Inc. has appointed senior Metro Inc. executive Robert Sawyer as its new president and chief executive officer.

Rona chairman Robert Chevrier said the home-renovation and hardware retailer needed a "specialist in retail and distribution operations" and Mr. Sawyer fit the bill.

"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," Mr. Chevrier said in a news release Tuesday.

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Mr. 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."

The appointment caps a longer-than-anticipated search for a successor to longtime Rona CEO Robert Dutton, who was ousted in November.

Dominique Boies, Rona's chief financial officer who was serving as acting CEO, will remain as CFO and also assist Mr. Sawyer as a member of the company's management committee.

The company has been struggling with poor results and turned down an unsolicited $1.8-billion takeover offer from U.S. giant Lowe's last year.

Boucherville, Que.,-based Rona is working on a major restructuring plan that includes the sale of less-profitable stores and a return to its Quebec roots.

Mr. Sawyer is leaving Montreal-based grocery giant Metro, where he was executive vice-president and chief operating officer since April 2009.

"Mr. Sawyer has played an important role in the success of M etro over the past 33 yeas and it's with regret that we learned of his decision to accept a new challenge with another company," Metro president and CEO Eric La Flèche said in a news release.

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For Metro, Mr. Sawyer's departure is the second senior one in the past year, after Richard Dufresne, its form chief financial officer, left to take up the same role at food giant George Weston Ltd.

As a result, the latest move is a "slightly negative" development for Metro, said Peter Sklar, retail analyst at Bank of Montreal. "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."

A new Rona CEO was to have been anointed by the end of February, the company previously stated.

Mr. Chevrier said last month he was having trouble finding someone, adding it's crucial the new CEO speak French.

There were two candidates on the short list, including a U.S. executive at Home Depot, but both turned down Rona's offer, said Mr. Chevrier.

Mr. Chevrier took over as chairman in January as the company's two biggest institutional investors staged a major overhaul of the board.

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Invesco Trimark Ltd., which had been threatening a fight to replace the entire board after the rejection of the Lowe's offer and a string of disappointing results, agreed to back Rona's restructuring plan with turnaround expert Mr. Chevrier as chairman on the recommendation of major shareholder Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.

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About the Authors
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

Retailing Reporter

Marina Strauss covers retailing for The Globe and Mail's Report on Business. She follows a wide range of topics in the sector, from the fallout of foreign retailers invading Canada to how a merchant such as the Swedish Ikea gets its mojo. She has probed the rise and fall (and revival efforts) of Loblaw Cos., Hudson's Bay and others. More

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