Empire CEO Replaced by Poulin as Safeway Deal Closes

Empire Co., which agreed to buy Safeway Inc.’s Canadian stores for C$5.8 billion ($5.6 billion) in June, said Chief Executive Officer Paul Sobey will retire, as the company nears completion of the acquisition.

Marc Poulin, the current CEO of Empire’s grocery chain, Sobeys Inc., will replace Sobey, the Stellarton, Nova Scotia-based company said today in a statement. Sobey, 57, will step down from his post on Dec. 11.

“It’s been an exciting 15 years and with the imminent closing of this Canada Safeway transaction it’s an opportune time to make the transition,” Sobey said in a phone interview from Stellarton. “It’s never a great time, never a good time to step down, but the key is recognizing when a change should take place.”

Sobey, CEO since 1998 and a 32-year company veteran, will remain a director of Empire, which has business in food distribution, real estate and corporate investments. He also plans to hold onto his shares of the company. Poulin will keep his job as head of Sobeys, according to the statement.

“I’m really excited for our future prospects as the new management group will capitalize on this platform for growth,” Sobey said. “Marc is a good hands-on operator, seasoned and a well-respected food retailer in this country.”

Intense Competition

Empire slipped 0.4 percent to C$75.26 at the 4 p.m. close in Toronto today. The stock has climbed 28 percent this year, making it the third-best performing stock in the S&P/TSX Consumer Staples Index.

Sobey retires after leading the company’s acquisition of Canada Safeway Ltd. amid intense competition from domestic rivals such as Loblaw Cos. and Metro Inc., as well as foreign brands including Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The CEO is the son of David Sobey, chairman emeritus of Sobeys, and grandson of Frank Sobey, who expanded his father’s original meat-delivery business into a countrywide chain of grocery stores.

Sobey said he’s looking forward to spending time with his family while also assisting with the company’s transition.

“Rest assured I’m not going to be living on an island somewhere,” he said.

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