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Ron Marshall, the former Nash Finch CEO who left Borders earlier this year to take over the reins at the troubled Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P), reportedly has been dismissed by A&P and will be replaced by Sam Martin, the former COO of Whole Foods who most recently has been serving as COO of OfficeMax.

Marshall had been brought in to replace Eric Claus, who had been brought down from A&P’s Canadian operations in 2005 and was fired without apparent warning in 2009.

The move comes just seven months after taking the A&P job, and as A&P announced first quarter sales down to $2.6 million from $2.8 million during the same period a year ago, same store sales that were down 7.2 percent, and continued and what the company described this way: “Adjusted loss from operations was $51 million versus adjusted income from operations of $4 million in last fiscal year's first quarter.

Christian Haub, A&P’s executive chairman, released the following statement:

"The Board and the company's major shareholders, Tengelmann and Yucaipa, have been instrumental in developing what I believe is the right turnaround strategy for A&P. As we moved to the implementation and execution stage of this comprehensive operational and revenue-driven turnaround, the Board determined that the company needed a leader at the helm with the skill set Sam Martin possesses. Sam is a proven, hands on operational expert in the food retail industry. He has an ideal mix of food industry management experience encompassing operations, merchandising and supply chain. We are confident that he will successfully drive the rapid implementation of our multi-faceted effort to make A&P a stronger and more efficient company. We thank Ron Marshall for his service and wish him well in his future endeavors."

For his part, Martin released the following statement: "I am thrilled to be joining A&P and to have the opportunity to lead the company's turnaround effort at this important time in its history. I look forward to working with the Board, Christian and A&P's talented associates to quickly execute on the opportunities for improving our performance in the near term and to put the company on a solid foundation for the future."

Back in May, BTW, Ron Marshall told analysts that he will be “broadening price cuts, establishing stronger identities for each of its banners and stripping overlapping costs out of its supply chain,” and said that “Great Atlantic's poor results stem from more than the weak economy, which has caused supermarkets to struggle as consumers cut back on their purchases.” Marshall said, “We face issues that are systemic, deep and profound, and must be addressed before we can achieve the success that our shareholders and associates deserve.”
KC's View:
The problems at A&P certainly are systemic, deep and profound, but at this point one has to wonder whether the bigger problems are in the stores - which seem to stand for nothing specific, offer little of real value, and are losing that questionable ground with every passing day - or in the executive suite, where they can’t seem to make up their mind about who should be running the company and what the vision should be.

Maybe Marshall was the wrong guy. Maybe this is all some kind of positioning, as Yucaipa looks to have a greater role in management. Maybe they are positioning the company for some sort of sale, though at this point, it is hard to imagine that A&P is worth very much beyond some real estate. Maybe this has less to do with Marshall than it has to do with Haub and Yucaipa head honcho Ron Burkle, or has to do with a board that may never be satisfied. (In which case, Martin better watch out.) And maybe it doesn’t really matter.

At the very least, this is yet another illustration - not that we needed one - of a company in total disarray. They can talk about turnaround strategies all they want - this company is so deep in the ditch that it may never get out. And the sad reality is - and I take no great pleasure in saying it - that Christian Haub as been at the wheel for much of the sad trip. If he didn’t belong to the family that owns much of the company, he would have been gone years ago.

The biggest problem for A&P is that it is almost out of time. Ten years ago, the company had time to revive itself. Ten years ago, there was some room for the mediocre. Not anymore. While A&P cannot get out of its own way, its competitors are getting better and stronger. Companies like Walmart, Stop & Shop, Whole Foods and Fairway aren’t standing still. A&P could end up with a zero market share, irrelevant and obsolete. The clock is ticking, and it is almost hard to imagine that anyone short of a miracle worker could come in and fix the company’s extensive problems. (Houdini is not available, last I heard.)

Who in that organization is not looking for another job right now? Who would follow any of these people? This would be textbook dysfunctional management if it were not to much worse that that.

Eric Claus got four years. Ron Marshall got seven months. What’s the over-under on Sam Martin’s tenure? And who the hell would even consider replacing him? (One can only imagine that Martin must have gotten a great package - and a terrific guaranteed severance agreement - just to join the company.)

When reporting that Marshall would start his new job at A&P on February 8, I wrote: “On February 9, he’s going to wonder what the hell he’s gotten himself into.” And I added, “there is no time like the present to see if he can change his last name to Haub.”

Even that wouldn’t help.

What a nightmare, and it is especially saddening when you realize that A&P was once one of the legendary names in retailing.