February 5, 2018

Staples picks new CEO with experience handling losses

Alexander Douglas previously was an executive for Coke, which lost $2.4 billion in net operating revenues in 2016.
Shira Goodman

Coca-Cola executive Alexander Douglas will replace Shira Goodman as CEO of Framingham office retailer Staples, who departed the company last month, less than a year after the company went private following its $7-billion acquisition by New York-based Sycamore Partners.

Douglas, who goes by the name Sandy, was the executive vice president of Atlanta soft drink maker Coca-Cola Co. and former president of Coca-Cola North America, Staples announced on Jan. 26, the same day Goodman left the company.

Stales spokesman Mark Cautela confirmed Goodman left the company on Jan. 26 after 26 years, saying she played a critical role in the company's evolution.

"We are immensely grateful for the contributions she has made to Staples over the last 26 years, and she departs having led this organization with the highest level of integrity," Cautela said.

The official announcement of her departure included no remarks from Goodman herself or mention of her time with the company.

The loss-management CEO

Douglas will begin as CEO effective April 2. John Lederer, Staples' executive chairman, will lead the company during the two-month transition.

In Douglas' 30 years with Coca Cola, he served stints the company's global chief customer officer and other roles in sales and marketing. He began his career at Procter & Gamble in sales.

"Together with the company's leadership and its associates, we will work to drive the business forward as we continue to deliver exceptional products, service and expertise to Staples' customers," Douglas said in a statement.

The leadership change likely signals a significant shift in the company's strategy to a membership-focused business-to-business approach, said Jorge Riveras, an associate professor of management strategy and international business at Framingham State University.

"They're perhaps trying to become Costco, or maybe much more," he said.

The company is restructuring after years of losses and being purchased by Sycamore Partners, which may explain why Staples sought the expertise of an executive like Douglas, who has experience managing big losses.

Coca Cola has been cutting and restructuring, reporting a net revenue loss of 15 percent, or about $1.5 billion, for the third quarter. In 2016, Coca Cola said it lost about $2.4 billion in net operating revenues for the year.

New alliances and mergers – not organic growth – will help save Staples, Riveras said.

"Overall, this could prove to be a good change," he added.

The 16-month CEO

The Wall Street Journal first reported the news of Goodman's departure, citing a letter to employees informing them Goodman's last day would be Jan. 26 and a new CEO would be named shortly.

Goodman, who is in her mid 50s, first joined Staples in 1992. She became president and CEO in September 2016.

The deal to go private came as Staples has struggled to keep up with consumer habits and online shopping giants like Amazon. Staples lost $615 million in 2016, when it closed 48 stores, after a failed merger with Office Depot. It planned a closure of another 70 stores in 2017. In the midst of those closures, Staples sold its European division to Cerberus Capital at a $117-million loss.

WBJ Staff Writer Grant Welker contributed to this report.

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