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Since the beginning of the year, Doug Robinson, a vice-president at Lowe's Cos. Inc., worked secretly from the Mooresville, N.C., head office on a project that was code-named GBI North. That stood for Global Building Initiative -- North.

His assignment: Design a battle plan for the home improvement giant's entry into Canada, but don't let anyone know except "a couple of dozen people."

Mr. Robinson, who yesterday was named president of the Canadian stores, was able to keep the secret in the bag until just days before the announcement yesterday that Lowe's would expand into Canada in 2007.

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By last week, word was leaking out within the Canadian retailing and real estate industries that consultants had been hired by a large U.S. retailer to scout out store locations. Industry insiders assumed it was Lowe's.

"As we needed to advance the project and start to understand things in greater detail, we needed to come out and explain to people what our intentions are," Mr. Robinson said in an interview. "Now we can focus on the real work."

Still, Mr. Robinson, 45, is no stranger to Canada. In the nineties, he headed the retailer Beaver Lumber Co. before its parent, Molson Cos., sold it to Home Hardware. After that he was chief executive officer of ARXX Building Products in Ontario, which supplied home improvement retailers with inventory.

A 20-year veteran of the North American home improvement sector, the U.S. native joined Lowe's in June of 2003 as a district manager before moving to head office at the beginning of this year as vice-president of special projects.

Industry observers say Mr. Robinson has a strong track record.

"He's a very well-respected guy," said Michael McLarney, publisher of the trade publication Hardlines. "He's not been in the spotlight for a couple of years. He loves Canada, so he's happy to be here."

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