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10 CEOs to Watch in 2010


Crystal-balling is always a dangerous vocation. One year from now, the retail landscape may look significantly different than it does today. Or it might not. Will dollar stores continue to take market share away from mid-priced retailers? Will luxury retail regain momentum? Will consumers stay focused on necessities? The truth is no one really knows. So rather than offer up predictions about the future, Chain Store Age (with an assist from industry experts) has come up with something different: a list of the retail CEOs we think will bear watching as the year unfolds.

Missing from the list are some of the industry’s most high-profile leaders. And that’s by design. There is no Wal-Mart chief, nor J.C. Penney head, nor Kohl’s, Macy’s, Target or Safeway CEOs. And no Mickey Drexler. Instead of those high-flying chief executives—who are bound to be in the headlines year-round by virtue of their company’s weight and/or their own prominence—we have trained our eyes on 10 CEOs who tend to motor a little lower on the media radar.

Maybe it’s because they are newer. Or, in other instances, because their company size is smaller. Whatever the reason, the following chiefs topped our short list of CEOs worth watching because of the influence they wield in their respective categories—and because they are willing to shake things up a bit. And that could be what makes the Chain Store Age CEO list worth watching in 2010.

Richard DreilingCEO, Dollar General Corp. Goodlettsville, Tenn.

Now’s a great time to be a dollar store guy. As the recession took hold, and specialty retailers took a tumble, discounters never missed a step—marching forward and recording rising sales and profits.

Of the discount group, dollar stores have enjoyed some of the greatest highs. And Dollar General may have experienced the biggest high of all, as CEO Rick Dreiling, 54, led the company toward a late-2009 IPO. All this occurred less than two years after he left a turnaround role at Duane Reade to take the reins of Dollar General, where he was charged with helping the chain maximize its potential after a $6.9 billion buyout by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.

Under Dreiling, Dollar General has grown throughout the recession, recording consistent increases in sales, comps, profits and total number of stores. But the leadership road hasn’t been easy. In his two years as CEO, Dreiling has transitioned the ownership of the company, overseen the addition of new private-label items, streamlined the inventory process, and opened and remodeled hundreds of stores. And he oversaw the much-heralded November debut on the New York Stock Exchange.

Dollar General appears to be betting that it will maintain the strong shopper base it cultivated during the downturn, but Dreiling isn’t passive about customer retention. A merchandise overhaul that has focused on private-label brands—the company’s True Living line of home products is set to roll out to all of Dollar General’s units by April 2010—and initiatives to improve store-manager morale are upping shopper experience.

Watch for more of the same from Dreiling in 2010. While not everyone is convinced that Dollar General can continue its current growth rate next year, plenty believe the discounter’s more trend-relevant position will carry its momentum forward. And Dreiling’s expansion plans are ambitious to say the least: With some 8,700 stores in the United States, Dollar General plans to open 600 new stores in 2010 and remodel or relocate another 500.

Karl-Johan PerssonCEO, Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) Stockholm, Sweden

The new, 34-year-old chief executive of the world’s fast-fashion giant isn’t letting the economic downturn get in the way of the chain’s global push. H&M continues to expand aggressively, both online and in existing markets. The $14.5 billion company will debut a 30,000-sq.-ft. Paris flagship this year as it continues to focus on Europe, North America, Japan and China. Also on tap are two new markets: South Korea and Israel.

Persson, who took the company reins in July 2009 upon the retirement of Rolf Eriksen, grew up immersed in the H&M culture. His grandfather founded the chain in 1947 and his father (still chairman of H&M) served as chief executive from 1982 to 1998.

Committed to the core brand, Persson has made it clear that H&M’s namesake brand is essential to its success. But at the same time, he has shown a knack for forging new ground. He was instrumental in H&M’s move into home furnishings and the launch of its more upscale COS chain. It will be interesting to see how these new ventures play out in the coming months.

Jane ElfersPresident and CEO, The Children’s Place Secaucus, N.J.

With 25 years experience in retailing, most recently as CEO of Lord & Taylor, Jane Elfers has found herself a new challenge: Bring stability back to The Children’s Place and start moving the brand forward again.

The $1.6 billion, 953-store chain has been working on a turnaround since 2007 when founder Ezra Dabah was forced out after an investigation showed he violated internal policies for securities trades. (In July, he lost a proxy fight over a new slate of board members and stepped down from the company). Elfers officially took the reins at Children’s Place in January, replacing Chuck Crovitz who served as interim CEO since Dabah’s outster.

The new chief executive’s track record is impressive. Elfers ran Lord & Taylor for nine years, rejuvenating the brand and bringing a more upscale and contemporary look to the stores and merchandise mix (she left in 2008 after the department store chain was sold to NRDC Equity Partners).

Elfers has set her priorities for Children’s Place: Expand the chain to new markets, particularly value centers, and enhance the brand’s Web site with a broader selection of products and services and improved customer experience. But she has already succeeded in one important area: Most industry experts say her mere appointment brought a much-needed feeling of confidence back to Children’s Place.

Craig HerkertPresident and CEO, SuperValu Inc. Eden Prairie, Minn.

Craig Herkert hardly had time to warm the seat of his new corner office chair when he was faced with explaining less-than-stellar financial results at his first analysts conference call.

Named CEO of mega-grocer SuperValu Inc. in May 2009, then adding president to his title in July, Herkert, 50, decided to get right to the point with company shareholders on the July 29, 2009, call. He declared the first-quarter 2010 sagging sales and profits “unacceptable,” and promised a new approach that focused less on remodels and more on the SuperValu customer.

So far, Herkert has been true to his word. He eliminated the $44 billion company’s established high/low pricing strategy, and instead lowered pricing overall in Chicago and California stores under a now-expanding customer-based initiative called “The Big Relief price-cut program.” Rather than mimic his former employer, Wal-Mart Stores—Herkert was previously president and CEO of the Americas for the discounter—and implement an everyday low pricing strategy, Herkert moderated the cost to customers across the board.

Then he outlined a 10-point program that refocuses SuperValu on its customer, calling for positive shopping experiences, support for independent retailers, a value image, enhanced brand messages, reduced SKUs and centralized merchandising and marketing.

Watch for Herkert in 2010 to keenly analyze 2,421 locations nationwide for implementation of customer-centric policies and philosophies designed to simplify shoppin

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