PLEASANTON -- Safeway named Robert Edwards, the company's president, to replace outgoing CEO Steve Burd as head of the nation's second-largest supermarket chain.

Safeway announced Monday that Edwards would become chief executive and join the board of directors after Burd's official retirement in two weeks. The announcement comes earlier than expected -- when asked during a call with investors Thursday, Burd gave no hint of a successor and said the new CEO would be in place for the company's annual stockholder meeting May 14.

Edwards, 57, joined Safeway in 2004 as executive vice president and chief financial officer. Last year, he was named company president, and given responsibility for manufacturing, marketing, distribution, finances and retail operations. He remained chief financial officer until Peter Bocian replaced him in February.

Safeway has named Robert Edwards its new CEO. (Safeway photo)
Safeway has named Robert Edwards its new CEO. (Safeway photo)

Edwards declined an interview request, but Burd said in a prepared statement that his successor is prepared for the challenges ahead and "has earned the respect of the entire organization."

Edwards takes control in the throes of the Pleasanton company's turnaround, as Safeway continues to search for new ways to stay competitive in an industry turned on its head with the emergence of big-box grocers such as Walmart and niche stores such as Trader Joe's. In recent months, Safeway has rolled out digital coupon programs, fuel-rewards partnerships with major oil companies and health and wellness services.


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There are signs the turnaround is taking root -- Safeway's profit improved each quarter in 2012, and the stock hit a two-year high this month. However, a disappointing first-quarter earnings report released last week showed lower-than-expected revenue and sent shares tumbling more than 18 percent, raising questions about how far Safeway's loyalty programs can go to improve sales.

Shares rose less than 1 percent during after-hours trading after the announcement Monday.

While Edwards is no stranger to big business, Safeway was his first foray into the rough-and-tumble supermarket industry. He had previous stints at disk drive manufacturer Maxtor and data storage provider Imation. He is a director at Safeway spinoff Blackhawk Network, which provides the prepaid gift cards Safeway sells in the checkout aisles. Blackhawk has proved hugely lucrative for Safeway, with profit exceeding $48 million last year and a gangbuster initial public offering that debuted this month at $230 million.

Burd, 63, exits Safeway after two decades at the helm, during which he was widely respected for improving health care for employees and offering consumers more options for natural and organic foods. His long tenure, however, was also marked by clashes with labor groups and complaints about poor customer service and overcharging.

Burd, a leading voice for the industry during the nation's health care reform debate, said in an earlier statement that he was stepping down to have more personal time and work on national health care issues.

Safeway also announced Monday that T. Gary Rogers, the company's lead independent director, will become nonexecutive chairman upon Burd's retirement.

Contact Heather Somerville at 925-977-8418. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.

Robert Edwards

Age: 57
Current positions: President of Safeway; director at KKR Financial and Blackhawk Network, a Safeway spinoff
Previous Safeway positions: Executive vice president, chief financial officer
Previous employers: Maxtor, Imation, Santa Fe Pacific
Education: Bachelor's degree in accounting and MBA from Brigham Young University