Safeway Inc., which is headquartered in Pleasanton, announced Wednesday that Steve Burd, its long-time Chairman and CEO, will retire as CEO and as a director at the company's annual stockholders meeting on May 14.
The company's board of directors will begin a search for a successor, and will consider both internal and external candidates for the job. Burd will help with the search and will continue to assist the company after he transitions out of his leadership posts.
Burd joined Safeway in October 1992 as president and was appointed CEO in May of the following year. He has been at the helm for the last 20 years.
In a press release, company spokesman Brian Dowling said that among some of Burd's key initiatives were "establishing a culture of thrift and capital discipline, creating an industry-leading customer service program, developing the 'Lifestyle' store format, introducing a level of quality in perishable products that had never been seen in food retailing and forming a leading prepaid payment network that has become one of the largest distributors of gift cards in the world."
He also accelerated the company's efforts in charitable giving and sustainability. During his tenure, the company raised more than $2 billion for charities, including over $200 million for cancer research.
Burd's arrival at Safeway, a largely unionized company, coincided with an extraordinary growth in new food retail formats, virtually all of them non-union. These changes put downward pressure on both sales and margins, but through strategic initiatives and cost reduction efforts, Safeway still managed to outperform the S&P 500 over the last 20 years.
Safeway has also become one of the nation's most recognized leaders in health care. In the last eight years, Safeway has introduced innovative design and practice features into its health plans. As a result, while the average U.S. company experienced an 8% annual growth in employer health care costs from 2005 through 2011, Safeway averaged a 2% annual growth rate for both the employer and employee contributions.
More recently, Safeway has introduced a unique digital marketing/loyalty platform called "Just for U." This platform has allowed the company to personalize its prices to individual shoppers. Safeway has also partnered with a technology company to bring innovative health care services to Safeway's customers.
"I feel this is the right time to move forward with a transition plan," Burd said.
"The company is gaining market share with each passing quarter," he added. "We have developed the most sophisticated digital marketing platform in retail, we are implementing the most comprehensive and personalized fuel loyalty program and we will be rolling out a wellness initiative that has the potential to transform the company."
"While I still have the high level of energy and enthusiasm I brought to the company 20 years ago," Burd said, "I need more personal time and, given my extensive work in health care, I want to pursue that interest further."
Gary Rogers, the company's lead independent director, called Burd "an iconic leader" and "one of the industry's most innovative CEOs."
"He will be very difficult to replace," Rogers said. "As he moves to the next phase of his career, we hope to continue to leverage his input and assistance as the company moves ahead with its exciting new programs."