Top executive at Giant Food picks successor

September 11, 1992|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- Israel Cohen, the 79-year-old patriarch of Giant Food Inc., began the process of passing the torch yesterday by designating veteran company executive Pete L. Manos as his successor.

In an announcement that came at the end of the company's annual meeting, Mr. Cohen said Mr. Manos, 55, will serve as president of Giant, the region's dominant grocery chain, and take the helm "when the time comes for me to become less active."

Mr. Cohen, who is holding on to his titles of chairman and chief executive officer, showed no sign of impending inactivity. Proclaiming vigorous health, he said he will leave the top spot at Giant "when it's no longer fun for me to get up in the morning and go to work."

He said Mr. Manos' title would bring no new responsibilities. "I do not plan now to change day-to-day management operations in )) any respect," he said.

The appointment of Mr. Manos, the company's senior vice president for food operations, to a position Mr. Cohen has held since 1977, resolves a succession issue that has hovered over Giant for many years.

Jeff Metzger, publisher of the trade publication Food World, said yesterday's announcement was "not a shock but a surprise" because "the status quo had remained so long."

He praised Mr. Manos as "a very talented, solid executive."

Mr. Cohen said one reason for making the decision now was that "every time you talk to analysts, they say, 'Who's your successor?' "

Mr. Manos was his personal choice, Mr. Cohen said, and no search committee was involved.

"You want someone who has everything -- who's a buyer, who's a zmerchandiser, who knows advertising," Mr. Cohen said. He said Mr. Manos is not only the most qualified member of Giant's senior management team but also the youngest.

Mr. Manos, who joined Giant in 1960 as an accounting clerk, has been responsible for Giant's store operations and has been food operations chief since 1985.

In that role, Mr. Manos supervises all of Giant's grocery and pharmacy operations, including dairy, meat and seafood, as well as the company's manufacturing operations.

The announcement comes at a time when Giant, once one of the most reliable growth companies in the grocery business, has been watching its earnings erode because of a slumping economy.

In the last fiscal year, Giant's earnings dropped to $1.47 per share from $2.01, representing the company's first year-to-year decline since 1987. The most recent quarter, which ended Aug. 15, brought the company's first sales decline in decades, as earnings dropped by a third compared with the previous year.

The hard times were reflected in the site of the Giant meeting, held in the cafeteria of the company's headquarters in Landover rather than in the caterer's hall where stockholders gathered last year. And instead of the company's traditional free lunch for stockholders, the company provided brownies and soda.

In spite of the changes, Giant's annual meeting was a typically cordial gathering, with the only fireworks being provided by corporate gadfly Evelyn Davis, who badgered Mr. Cohen about why Giant doesn't carry a brand of hand soap she saw in the bathroom at company headquarters.

In a news conference after the meeting, Mr. Cohen and Mr. Manos stressed continuity. "The only thing we don't do alike is look alike," the diminutive Mr. Cohen said of the rotund Mr. Manos.

Mr. Manos stressed the company's determination to stave off rivals' attempts to grab its market share even at the cost of smaller margins. "They're not going to get our business," he said.

However, the new president said he did not expect Giant to adopt an everyday low pricing strategy to hold on to its share. "We're a promotion-driven company, and that's what our customers want," Mr. Manos said.

Mr. Manos said Giant is continuing to look for expansion possibilities outside its core region, including locations in Delaware and southern Pennsylvania. Mr. Cohen ruled out any move into the Philadelphia area.

Mr. Cohen said he did not foresee any expansion of Giant's presence in the Baltimore area except for the renovation of existing stores. "I don't know where we could go in Baltimore that we're not," he added.

The Giant stores slated for renovation in the coming year are the one in Lutherville and one at 6223 Baltimore National Pike.

Mr. Cohen said he did not expect negotiations with the Food and Commercial Workers union to result in a strike Wednesday when the Baltimore and Washington local contracts expire.

"We think we'll have a fair settlement," he said.

Giant also announced that it will resume its popular Apples for the Students program on Oct. 11.

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