"The Cleaner" takes on Carrefour challenge

Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:13am EST
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By Dominique Vidalon and Pascale Denis

PARIS (Reuters) - Georges Plassat was known as "The Cleaner" when at the helm of French retail group Vivarte, with a reputation as a ruthless cost-killer who could at times be harsh with the troops.

Now the 62-year old retail veteran is taking on the toughest challenge of his career -- the top seat at Carrefour, the world's second-largest stores group with annual sales of over 90 billion euros.

As new chief executive, the Frenchman with a solid track record for company restructuring must turn around Europe's largest grocer to save it from a possible break-up.

"Carrefour is sinking and shareholders will be expecting Plassat to hit the ground running. There is no doubt that he has the biggest task in retail this year," said Natalie Berg, director of global research at Planet Retail.

Plassat replaces Lars Olofsson, a former Nestle NESN.VX marketing executive, who after three years leaves a group in disarray.

Carrefour warned its profits would fall short of targets six times in a little over a year. Staff morale is the doldrums. The shares have lost 24 percent since Olofsson took over.

Plassat, a man who shuns the limelight, must pull off what Olofsson and a procession of chief executives before him failed to do: fix Carrefour's struggling European hypermarket business and halt market share loss in the company's core French market.

Plassat's experience at Vivarte, owner of brands such as Andre shoes, Kookai womenswear and discount retailer La Halle aux Vetements, could be crucial in helping Carrefour revive its underperforming hypermarkets, analysts say.   Continued...

<p>The logo of Carrefour Planet supermarket is seen in Bordeaux, southwestern France, January 19, 2012. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau</p>