Associated Wholesalers (AWI) today said that President and CEO J. Christopher Michael is retiring from the company after 41 years of service. Veteran wholesale executive Matthew Saunders has been named president and CEO of AWI, effective immediately.
AWI also said today that its board of directors has decided to pursue a sale of its White Rose Food subsidiary. This action is a key part of steps AWI is taking to set a strategic direction that will provide the cooperative with the opportunity to refocus on AWI’s core legacy business—a business that was built on the entrepreneurial spirit of AWI’s members, according to the company.
Michael will remain with AWI as chairman emeritus to help oversee a smooth leadership transition.
Saunders joined AWI as EVP and COO in 2012. He previously served in leadership roles at Merchants Distributors Inc. and Supervalu.
Joyce Fasula and Mike Rothwell, chairman and vice-chairman of the AWI board of directors, respectively, said in a statement, “On behalf of the entire AWI board, we want to thank Chris for his extraordinary contributions to AWI and wish him well on his retirement. In his 34 years as CEO, Chris has played an important role in building AWI into one of the nation’s leading wholesale cooperatives. We are also pleased to have an executive as talented as Matt ready to assume the CEO role. Matt is a proven leader with extensive experience in our industry, and we are confident that he is the right person to steer AWI into its next phase of growth and development.”
White Rose divestiture
The AWI board has formed a special committee to pursue a sale of the White Rose business and has retained Lazard Middle Market as its investment banker to assist in the process. White Rose Food is the largest independent wholesale food distributor in the New York metropolitan area. Through its well-developed logistics and transportation infrastructure, White Rose efficiently services an area ranging from lower New England to upper Virginia, AWI says. With three core product divisions—grocery, dairy and frozen—White Rose provides customers an assortment to meet the many needs of the complex metro market, according to AWI, which acquired the business in 2006.
In the statement, Fasula and Rothwell said, “After extensive analysis, our board has determined that this is the right time to identify a suitable buyer for White Rose. Through this sale process, we intend to position White Rose for a fresh beginning under a new owner. A sale of White Rose will give AWI the opportunity to get back to our co-op roots, with a sharp focus on growing the core business.”