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Loblaw’s new boss has lots of global retail expertise

The new president of Loblaw Companies is a proven retail executive with plenty of international credentials. But his last two posting, at Walmart and France’s Carrefour, were remarkable for how brief they lasted.

Vicente Trius, (left) a 53-year-old Spaniard, was named president of Canada’s largest grocer on Thursday. He won’t take over the job until the second half of this year, however.

Trius will replace Allan Leighton, the British retail executive who executed a mass reorganization of Loblaw over the past four years that saw the company slash costs and spend heavily to update its supply chain.

Analysts called the hire a smart one since Trius will bring much-needed retail operational expertise to Loblaw. “We have said for some time, this is an area where Loblaw needs to fill the gaps,” Scotia Capital analyst Patricia Baker said in a research note.

She said Trius’s international retail background will help him understand the Canadian market faster and thus have a more immediate impact. “This is a tough industry with slow to no growth and, in our view, Loblaw needs such an individual driving the business. With infrastructure now set, operating and executing are paramount.”

Having held top positions for Walmart in Asia and in Latin America, and for Carrefour in Europe, Trius does arrive here with impressive global retail credentials.

But his last two stops were short. He only joined Carrefour in May of last year and is now leaving for Canada. He also spent just five months as president and chief executive of Walmart Latin America before that.

At Carrefour, Trius was director of Europe, a title that saw him run Carrefour’s business outside of France, specifically in Belgium, Spain, Italy, Poland, Greece, Cyprus and Romania. Trius was also with Carrefour last year when the company launched its latest hypermarket concept in Europe, the much talked about and colourfully lit Carrefour Planet (right). He was put in charge of its rollout in Greece, Italy, Spain and Belgium.

Trius also sat on Carrefour’s group executive board. He was one of two key people hired in the last year by CEO Lars Olofsson to help remake the grocery and retail giant (James McCann from Britian’s Tesco, in charge of the French division, was the other).

In an interview last September, Olofsson made special note of these additions. “We now have a complete executive board with some exceptional international talents. I must say it is the best team, in my point of view, that any retailer is putting up,” he said.

Before Carrefour, Trius spent 14 years with Walmart. As president of the Brazil division he launch the discount retailer in that country. He then went on to head Walmart Asia for a year, opening 40 new stores in China and introducing everyday low pricing to Japan through Walmart’s Seiyu division, before taking over Walmart in Latin America.

Trius started his retail career in 1978 at the American discount department chain E.J. Korvettes and was later at Ohio’s Revco Drug Stores. He also spent time with Simago/Dairy Farm International.

Loblaw called the hiring of Trius a planned succession.

Though he is giving up the president’s job, Leighton won’t be leaving Loblaw entirely. He will continue to hold down a top position with Loblaw’s parent company, George Weston Limited, and remain an advisor to the Weston family.

In a note to Loblaw employees on Thursday, executive chairman Galen Weston called Trius a “high-calibre executive committed to building on the strong foundation established by Allan [Leighton].” Later he said that Trius’s global experience will help Loblaw’s efforts to target ethnic shoppers in Canada, which represent a growing and powerful shopper demographic.

Like Trius, Leighton also spent time with Walmart, in this case at the company’s U.K. grocery chain Asda. A spokesperson for Loblaw said the two men never worked together at Walmart.

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