Former president, chief executive officer, and director, Winn-Dixie Stores
Born: June 24, 1944.
Career: Miller's Supermarket, 1963–1970, store manager; Albertsons, 1971–1996, held various positions, eventually becoming senior vice president; Smith's Food and Drug Centers, 1996–1997, president and chief executive officer; Winn-Dixie Stores, 1999–2003, president, chief executive officer, and director.
■ Allen R. Rowland spent his entire career in the grocery business, beginning as a grocery-store clerk at the age of 19. Within three years he moved into the position of store manager of Miller's Supermarket in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He established his reputation through 25 years at Albertsons, a large retail food chain located in Boise, Idaho. He left Albertsons in 1996 after reaching the rank of senior vice president and running retail operations in the southeastern United States. He then became the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Smith's Food and Drug Centers, where he led the company through its acquisition by Fred Meyer in 1997. In 1999 he became the president, CEO, and director of Winn-Dixie, one of the largest food retailers in the United States, with nearly 1,200 stores in 14 states and the Bahamas.
Rowland became a highly respected business leader with a reputation for taking decisive and swift action. His strength lay in his ability to instill organization while increasing profits and efficiency. He retired in June 2003 after setting Winn-Dixie on a course for higher revenues following four years of major reorganization and expansion.
When Winn-Dixie announced the choice of Allen R. Rowland as its CEO in November 1999, it focused on Rowland's previous achievements. He steered Smith's Food and Drug Centers through a major period of reorganizing its operations, keeping the company focused simultaneously on improving its efficiency and profits. He developed a reputation among industry insiders as a leader who could create order in the most disorderly of situations. When Rowland joined Smith's, this small family-based business wanted to put itself on the market for purchase, but it needed a major overhaul to be competitive. In just over a year at the helm, Rowland negotiated Smith's sale to Fred Meyer, better known as Kroger, for $2 billion. At Albertsons, Rowland earned a reputation in the retail food industry as a cost cutter and streamliner. His past record reflected his ability to make quick, decisive, and successful decisions.
The chairman of Winn-Dixie, A. Dano Davis, noted Rowland's experience in large-store operations with an emphasis on customer service as one reason for his appointment as CEO. Industry insiders also noted that Rowland's experience with a family-owned operation in need of organization was a major benefit for Winn-Dixie, which many felt in 1999 needed to be reorganized and turned around. By the time of Rowland's retirement in 2003, Davis said that Rowland had not disappointed them and that store operations had improved along with Winn-Dixie's financial position.
Rowland introduced customer-reward cards as a way to boost sales. He improved store operations and customer service while eliminating under-performing products. Rowland called these changes "rightsizing." One example of rightsizing was the replacement of salad bars with bagged salads. Icepacked melon bars also disappeared in Winn-Dixie stores under Rowland's leadership. Instead, cut pieces of melon were placed in plastic containers in refrigerated cases, which ensured less waste and higher quality for customers.
Rowland introduced popular programs such as Upromise Grocery Service, which allowed families to have a percentage of their Winn-Dixie purchases deposited in a college-savings account. He is credited with developing a strong senior-leadership team. He consolidated stores, aggressively restructured management, and instituted performance-based incentives for employees, while centralizing departments such as real estate, accounting, purchasing, and marketing.
A. Dano Davis called Rowland an "agent of change." Merrill Lynch noted in 2001 that, after two years in his leadership role, Rowland had made impressive changes necessitated by the "mess" he had inherited when he took over the reigns of Winn-Dixie, Florida's third-largest public company. Florida Trend magazine said in 2001 that Rowland had taken action quickly and decisively, "shaking up the grocery chain." He cut costs, removed unprofitable business lines, and reorganized the company's decentralized management structure. The magazine noted that one of his first decisions had been to change advertising agencies after 35 years of using the same company.
In his first year at Winn-Dixie, Rowland cut jobs and closed stores, which resulted in a $400 million annual reduction in costs. The Florida Times-Union reported that Winn-Dixie closed 112 unprofitable stores, four manufacturing plants, three distribution centers, and laid off 11,000 employees. In the middle of the restructuring, Winn-Dixie bought 106 stores from Jitney-Jungle of America, in Jackson, Mississippi, for $85 million. Rowland wrote in a press release on October 31, 2000, as quoted by the Florida Times-Union , "This acquisition is a very good strategic fit for Winn-Dixie" (October 31, 2000). He predicted that the purchase would improve Winn-Dixie's buying power. Industry insiders said the move could be good for the company, but only if Rowland's restructuring plans continued.
The restructuring did continue and was completed within a year of its initial announcement. Gross profits reached the projected level. Rowland continued the expense-reduction programs and focused on training and working with employees to improve customer service. Not all customers were pleased, however, as was made clear when the Florida Times-Union interviewed shoppers in 2001. One woman said that even though she enjoyed the service she received at the store, she had difficulty finding items because they kept moving them on the shelves. Winn-Dixie responded by saying they were trying to determine what products each of their stores needed on the shelves, to better satisfy customers in individual neighborhoods.
Rowland's restructuring of Winn-Dixie's management team earned high praise from food-retail watchers. Burt Flickinger III, a food-retailer professor at Cornell University, told the Florida Times-Union in 2000 that this initiative was "a brilliant master stroke," and he saw Rowland's decisions as allowing a more democratic structure into the business. Rowland brought all levels of management into the decision-making process, regardless of seniority. Industry analysts such as Flickinger saw this strategy as necessary to revive the stale corporate culture that had permeated Winn-Dixie in the late 1990s.
Rowland noted that he embraced working with a healthy mix of people with different experiences. His strategy emphasized developing a new corporate culture while stressing the need to give customers what they want. Representatives from Standard & Poor's noted the ambitious restructuring plan and watched the retail food chain carefully before they raised Winn-Dixie's credit ranking.
Rowland was not known for his interviews with media. When the Florida Times-Union attempted to interview him in 2000, he refused, but he did respond to written questions. Florida Trend , a magazine devoted to business in Florida, noted in its May 1, 2000, issue that "Winn-Dixie's executives are notorious for shunning interview requests, and the tradition continues with the company's newest CEO." The magazine was told that Rowland did not have an interest in interviews. Most of the information used in articles on Rowland's career came from press releases from the companies where he worked.
Upon his appointment as Winn-Dixie's CEO, Rowland began applying what he had learned at other companies. At the time, ten separate buyers within its ten regional divisions negotiated and purchased retail items. Within a month of his appointment, he announced that the company would unify the buyers into a single department, which increased Winn-Dixie's buying and bargaining power. Rowland announced this change in a press release on January 18, 2000. He stated that the move would improve efficiency by assigning "our most talented procurement, marketing and merchandising associates" to corporate teams. Rowland said the changes would "improve sales, reduce costs and enhance our bottom line." Within a year those goals had been achieved.
Winn-Dixie had worked with the same ad agency for 35 years. In 2001, however, Rowland switched to Cramer-Krasselt, the fourth-largest independent marketing agency in the country. He said that effective communication with current and prospective customers had become essential to Winn-Dixie's goal of increasing business.
Rowland's announcement of his major restructuring plan for Winn-Dixie came on the heels of a dismal financial report in fiscal year 2000, with decreased profits of $20.9 million from the previous year. Rowland refused to be interviewed by Florida Trend regarding the dismal results, but in a press release issued by the company on April 20, 2000, he called the results "disappointing and totally unacceptable." The day of the announcement, the board of directors approved his restructuring plan.
The plan included the closing of three division offices, in Tampa, Atlanta, and Louisville, as well as shutting down two manufacturing facilities in Jacksonville. It also involved the renovation of six hundred stores and the closing of nearly 30 stores, mostly in the Atlanta, Tampa, and Louisville areas where Winn-Dixie had been struggling to retain its market share against other companies. Burt Flickinger III noted that Rowland was doing with Winn-Dixie what he had done at Smith's by providing shock therapy for a business that had been stagnating in an age in which megacorporations were taking over smaller family-run chains. As quoted by Matthew I. Pinzur in the Florida Times-Union , Flickinger said Rowland was turning Winn-Dixie into "an operational powerhouse" (April 21, 2000).
Rowland aimed to provide the best possible atmosphere for customers in Winn-Dixie's grocery stores. He wanted to exceed customers' expectations for good-quality products and clean, sanitary stores. This goal coalesced with his strategies in streamlining management and involving employees at all levels in the process. As quoted by Paul C. Peralte in the Florida Times-Union , Rowland said he intended to staff stores with "the friendliest, most helpful people in the community" (February 14, 2000).
Winn-Dixie, a family business and one of the South's leading grocery chains, chose Rowland because of his ability, demonstrated at Smith's, to take a family business through a transitional period. By 1999 experts and analysts in the supermarket industry wondered if Winn-Dixie had appointed Rowland to ready the company for acquisition. Winn-Dixie maintained that it wanted to remain an independent chain, while still being competitive. The industry watched as Rowland immediately began making successful changes.
Industry insiders said that Winn-Dixie had been slow to change and not aggressive enough to maintain its market share. One food-retail analyst said in 2000 that Winn-Dixie had been known as a chain going nowhere, and Wall Street viewed the company as one without a clear focus. With their eyes on Rowland's appointment as CEO, the experts viewed it as Winn-Dixie's move to become a major player in the retail food business.
Prior to his appointment as CEO at Winn-Dixie, Rowland was known as a genius and a coveted executive. One analyst noted that Rowland was considered a "superb strategist" in the supermarket industry because he knew how to cut out the diseased parts of a corporation. Once Rowland had brought Winn-Dixie to the level of excellence he envisioned, he decided to retire at the age of 59. Before announcing his intentions, he brought in his successor, Frank Lazaran, to continue his strategies. A. Dano Davis said that Rowland, who was hired by Winn-Dixie to be an "agent of change," had been successful: as of 2003 Winn-Dixie ranked 149th on the Fortune 500 list.
See also entries on Albertson's Inc., Smith's Food and Drug Centers, Inc., and Winn-Dixie Store, Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories .
Daniels, Earl, "Winn-Dixie Buys Stores from Chain in Bankruptcy," Florida Times-Union , October 31, 2000.
Hallman, Cinda, "5 CEOs To Watch," Florida Trend , July 2001, p. 98.
Peralte, Paul C., "Winn-Dixie Plans To Cut 11,000 Jobs," Florida Times-Union , February 14, 2000.
Pinzur, Matthew I., "President and CEO Known For Resuscitating Companies," Florida Times-Union , April 21, 2000.
"Questions for new Winn-Dixie CEO," Florida Trend , May 1, 2001, p. 25.
"Winn-Dixie Announces Restructuring of Staff Organizations to Reduce Expense and Improve Efficiency," company press release, January 18, 2000, http://www.winn-dixie.com/company/news/2000/releases/01182000-1.asp .
"Winn-Dixie Reports Third Quarter Results," company press release, April 20, 2000, http://www.winn-dixie.com/company/news/2000/releases/04202000.asp .
—Patricia C. Behnke