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Lowe’s Sees Top Merchant to Supply-Chain Chief as CEO

Lowe’s Cos. is seeking an eventual successor to Chief Executive Officer Robert Niblock as it hires chiefs for merchandising and supply-chain operations.

Lowe’s is interviewing retail executives with the potential to become CEO, Maureen Ausura, chief human-resources officer for the Mooresville, North Carolina-based company, said today in an interview.

Niblock, chairman and CEO since 2005, has cut jobs, closed stores and shuffled senior executives in the past year after trailing larger Home Depot Inc. in sales growth. While Niblock, 50, hasn’t announced a plan to retire, recent reassignments at the second-largest U.S. home-improvement retailer have left top merchandising and supply-chain posts open.

“Either a merchant or an operations-focused executive would be a good fit” for the CEO role, Laura Champine, an analyst for Canaccord Financial Inc. in New York, said today via e-mail. She rates Lowe’s a hold.

Lowe’s has “no timeline” for Niblock’s succession, Ausura said. Niblock, who has been with the company for 19 years, hasn’t talked to the board about retiring, Chris Ahearn, a company spokeswoman, said.

The board is pushing to hire a chief merchant who would succeed Niblock within three years, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. Niblock wasn’t available for an interview, Lowe’s spokeswoman Julie Yenichek, said.

‘Leadership Potential’

“We are always saying we want to hire not only for the job but somebody who can at least do the next level and possibly the level after that,” Ausura said. With the top merchant and supply-chain chief two levels below the CEO “there’s a chance they could be a candidate in the CEO succession in the future,” she said.

Lowe’s is looking for a chief merchant “who’s been there, done that in a chief-merchandising role for another retail company,” Ausura said. “We’re looking for somebody who has leadership potential. We want somebody with multi-channel experience” as the retailer ramps up selling online, she said.

Lowe’s advanced 0.2 percent to $32.64 at the close in New York. The shares have climbed 29 percent this year.

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