PARIS (Reuters) - Fresh from combining Fnac bookstores and electricals chain Darty to better take on Amazon in France, Alexandre Bompard faces the challenge of reviving another ailing retail format when he becomes boss of Carrefour (CARR.PA): the hypermarket.
The 44-year-old is set to be named in the coming days to succeed Georges Plassat, whose contract as chairman and chief executive of the world’s second-largest retailer expires in May 2018, sources familiar with the situation told Reuters.
And according to associates, Bompard has the daring and determination that could help him succeed in revitalizing Carrefour’s core business where others have struggled or failed.
Last year, the father of three stunned the retail world when as CEO of Fnac he won a bidding war with South African giant Steinhoff for electricals chain Darty to create a French market leader with annual sales of over 7 billion euros ($7.9 billion).
“Alexandre Bompard made thousands of calls himself. He is someone who will not be easily deterred,” said billionaire businessman Xavier Niel, who knows him well.
Since taking the reins at Carrefour in June 2012, Plassat has led a recovery focused on price cuts, accelerating expansion into convenience shops and renovating stores.
The 68-year-old, credited with saving Carrefour from a possible break-up, leaves a group which has progressed in most of Europe and in Brazil, its second-largest market.
But a more sluggish performance in France, which accounts for 47 percent of sales and 44 percent of operating profit and where struggling hypermarkets still dominate, has hampered the stock’s performance. In March, Carrefour reported its first fall in operating profit since 2012.
For some, Bompard ticks many boxes for the task ahead, with a track record of cutting costs and growing online operations - both of which could be central to reviving French hypermarkets.
Shares in Fnac, which Bompard has led since January 2011, have nearly tripled in value since their stock market listing in 2013.
And if radical action is needed, the avid Twitter user with a fascination for the French World War II resistance movement, will not shy away, those who know him say.
“His image with the market changed with the Darty deal. He beat a large company, showing swift decision-making and daring,” said French businessman and political adviser Alain Minc.
Arnaud Lagardere, owner of the Europe 1 radio station that Bompard headed between 2008 and 2010 and who shares with him a passion for tennis, said: “He is very friendly but he is not naive. He is extremely resolute and if he thinks he has the right strategy, he will forge ahead, with no limits.”
Such determination could be crucial when dealing with Carrefour’s powerful shareholders, who include the Moulin family, owner of department store Galeries Lafayette, France’s richest man Bernard Arnault, and the family of Brazilian retail tycoon Abilio Diniz.
Some at Fnac Darty, however, are more critical of Bompard, disappointed that a highly paid boss is leaving with the integration of the two merged companies far from complete.
“He is a man in a hurry and demanding,” said Philippe Coutanceau, a representative of the CGT trade union. “We will remember an astronomical remuneration, out of line with the group’s size or results.”
Fnac Darty shareholders on May 24 approved Bompard’s pay package of 13.8 million euros for 2016.
At Carrefour, Force Ouvriere union representative Dejan Terglav is cautious: “We will judge him on his actions. He has a reputation for cutting heads. We await his strategy on hypermarkets and new technologies where Carrefour lags,”
Additional reporting Gwenaelle Barzic in Paris; Editing by Mark Potter