Introducing Edward Kennedy for his 24th and last annual general meeting as CEO of the North West Company, Sandy Riley, chairman of the board, said someone once told him that CEOs’ tenures should be measured in dog years.
"That is, one year as CEO is the equivalent to seven normal working years," he said. "If that’s true Edward has been CEO for the equivalent of more than 150 years. He has had an extraordinary career marked by remarkable growth and great financial results."
On Aug. 1, Dan McConnell will take over as CEO of the Winnipeg-based company that was formed when the Hudson’s Bay Co. spun off its Northern Stores division in 1987.
McConnell, speaking from his current base in Boca Raton, Fla., where he has headed the company’s international operation, said the prospects of leading the company are exciting.
"I love this company," said the native Winnipegger who just bought a home here and will be moving back to his hometown and the company’s headquarters.
"I’ve worked at the company for 19 years under Edward’s tutelage and it has been an incredible experience," he said.
The past 15 months have tested the mettle of the company in that many of the communities in northern Canada and Alaska that the retail company services had to rely on it for almost everything of importance because of travel restrictions brought on by the pandemic.
Community support has been a message that has grown throughout Kennedy’s time as head of the company and it’s something that McConnell said will be of top priority for him as CEO as well.
"We may be a large company (2020 revenue was $2.4 billion) but we operate as a small company," McConnell said in an interview with the Free Press.
"Community relations are always top of mind," he said. "We take a long-term approach. We will be building on what we already have which are very successful relationships, but there is lots of room to grow."
After having run the international operations for the past few years — which includes 12 Cost-U-Less stores in the Caribbean and South Pacific islands, McConnell said the company will always be looking for growth opportunities where "we can layer on our core competencies to positively impact communities."
For those who might still not be able to understand how and why the North West Company is in the Caribbean, McConnell said there are a lot of synergies.
"The impact we have on the communities we serve in the Caribbean is equal to that of the impact we have in communities in Alaska and northern Canada" he said. "No matter what – pandemic, floods, hurricanes... God forbid... the communities know they will be able to rely on us for food security. We put our hand up and make sure we are there for whatever the community needs."
The company released its first-quarter results on Wednesday and while sales decreased seven per cent to $551.0 million, that was mostly due to the sale and closure of most of its Giant Tiger stores that were part of the company’s operation in the first quarter of 2020 as well as foreign currency losses.
But average same store sales at its 290 locations were up 3.8 per cent, a strong showing considering the first quarter last year saw same store sales increase by 15.5 per cent.
Among other things the company-owned cargo airline, North Star Air, had a solid quarter with the possibility of doing more third-party work in the future.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.