To some, recruiting the former CFO of Compaq Computer Corp. to run a food distribution company might seem downright weird. Not to James W. Rogers, chairman of Alliant Foodservice Inc. A couple of years ago, Rogers realized that if Alliant didn't act fast, it would get squeezed out by online rivals able to connect buyers and sellers directly, without interference by middleman distributors--such as his own $6 billion, privately held firm. So Rogers went on the hunt for a CEO who understood how to transform a company's distribution system. At Compaq, Chief Financial Officer Earl L. Mason headed an effort to build PCs to order, but the program fizzled, and Compaq got smoked by build-to-order king Dell Computer Corp. Rogers thought that was just the kind of painful experience that translates into wisdom. "The reason that we got Mason is he got a lesson from Dell," says Rogers.
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