Anders Moberg, Ahold chief executive who led the company’s recovery after a near-€1bn ($1.4bn) accounting scandal in early 2003, is to leave the Dutch food retailer on July 1, the group said on Friday.
The surprise announcement comes amid a major restructuring that involves the sale of US Foodservice (USF), the distribution unit at the centre of the scandal, and a clutch of supermarket chains to retrench in food retailing in Europe and the US.
The move will trigger speculation about Ahold’s future and may spark renewed takeover or merger interest. It has recently talked with Delhaize, the Belgian retailer, about a merger, and is understood to have attracted private equity interest too.
John Rishton, Ahold chief financial officer, will take over on an interim basis after Mr Moberg leaves to “pursue other career interests”. A final decision on succession will be announced later in the year.
Mr Moberg’s decision was taken in consultation with Ahold’s supervisory board, which “agreed that now is the right time for a change of leadership as the company moves into the next phase of its development”, Ahold said in a statement.
Mr Moberg joined Ahold in April 2003 after spells leading Home Depot, the US retail chain, and as chief executive of Ikea, the Swedish home furnishings group.
His appointment caused uproar when it emerged that Ahold had a agreed a remuneration package of close to €10m. Shoppers boycotted Ahold’s Dutch supermarkets, before Mr Moberg voluntarily decided to cut his salary.
For most of his four-years in charge the Swede battled to restore Ahold’s credibility and financial health. Only recently, with the settlement of a more than $1bn class action claim with shareholders who suffered heavy losses as a result of the accounting scandal, has he been able to turn his thoughts to developing the business.
But his task was complicated by demands of Centaurus Capital and Paulson & Co, two activist hedge funds, who called on him to break up the company, selling all but its European supermarkets activities. The funds argued that there were few synergies between the US and European retailing operations and USF.
Parallel to that came speculation that Ahold would be bought by a private equity consortium or a trade rival, such as the UK’s Tesco, or would merge with Delhaize.
Mr Moberg’s last significant task is likely to be signing off on the sale of USF. Private equity houses Clayton, Dubilier & Rice and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts are among interested suitors with an expected price tag of around $6bn.