Next Giant Eagle CEO plots expansion

| Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011

Giant Eagle Inc.'s next CEO is working on a five-year plan to expand the region's dominant supermarket chain beyond its four-state footprint, she said on Wednesday.

Laura Shapira Karet will become chief executive effective Jan. 9, keeping the reins of the nation's 29th largest privately held company in her family.

Karet, 42, is the daughter of current CEO David Shapira, who will become executive chairman of the board, the company announced yesterday.

She joined the company in 2000 as vice president of marketing, and has been chief strategy officer for the past two years.

"Laura has extensive background in food retailing and manufacturing, both within and outside of Giant Eagle," Shapira said in a statement. He has been CEO of the family-held company since 1980.

Karet is the second new CEO to be named at a major Pittsburgh retailing company in two days. American Eagle Outfitters Inc. on Tuesday named former Levi Strauss Co. executive Robert Hanson to be president of the South Side-based clothing chain, effective Jan. 30.

"This is not just a transition for me and my father," said Karet in an interview. "We're also promoting John Lucot to president."

Lucot, 54, began his career at Giant Eagle in 1974, starting as a store clerk, and including jobs in distribution, retail development, real estate and operations. Karet described Lucot, who will retain the title of chief operating officer, as "a critical part of our team."

That team's long-term plan might take Giant Eagle beyond the Pennsylvania-Ohio-West Virginia-Maryland region it now serves, she said. The retailer might expand its GetGo or Giant Eagle Express gasoline/convenience stores or Valu King, its low-price grocery model, to new geographic markets.

"It's our intention to continue on a strong pattern of growth that's happened over the entire history of the company," Karet said.

The company reported $9.3 billion in sales for the year ended June 30. Karet said Giant Eagle is on track to increase sales to about $10 billion in the current year, an increase of 7 percent to 8 percent.

"Experimentation with some of the newer formulas has the potential to be exportable," Karet said. "We are a large player in the fuels business with our convenience store chain."

Giant Eagle rolled out GetGo in Mt. Pleasant in 2002, and Giant Eagle Express in Harmar in 2007. They now have 166 locations combined.

Today, Giant Eagle debuts electric car-charging stations at locations in Monroeville, Robinson and Pine.

"Staying ahead of the curve in terms of technology is important to us," Karet said. "We think gasoline over time will be complemented by other fuels, such as compressed natural gas and electrified cars. So, we're experimenting with what we see coming."

Retailing experts say Karet has the right background for the top job.

"She's demonstrated an interest in the business and a commitment to it, and has earned the support from other members of the (Shapira) family, including her dad," said Willard Bishop, chairman of the Barrington, Ill. retail consulting firm that bears his name.

Karet's food-business career includes marketing positions at Sara Lee Corp. from 1997 to 2000, including director of branded marketing. She also served in brand management positions at Procter & Gamble from 1990 to 1997.

Founded in 1931, Giant Eagle employs about 36,000, including 15,732 in Western Pennsylvania. It ranks 29th on Forbe's magazine's list of the nation's largest privately held companies. It has 170 corporate, and 58 franchisee stores, plus the fuel and convenience store locations in four states.

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