Couche-Tard's Bouchard to Become 'Acquirer in Chief'

Goes on acquisition watch full time in new role as Hannasch steps up as president, CEO

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

Greg Lindenberg, Editor, CSP

Alain Bouchard Brian Hannasch Alimentation Couche-Tard Convenience Stores

Alain Bouchard (left), Brian Hannasch

UPDATE: During Couche-Tard's fiscal third-quarter 2014 conference call, Bouchard offered some additional insights into Hannasch's appointment.

"It's personal timing for Brian and I, and good timing for the board," he said. "We have been undertaking discussions for the last couple of years. It is also [because of] the size we are today, with Europe and Asia and North America, we thought it was good timing for me to evolve into a role more focused on acquisition and M&A activity … and single-site acquisition and small pockets of store acquisition. And Brian is ready. He has been with the company for a number of years, and he is well known by the organization, and is well respected. It's the right thing to do, and now is the right time."

Hannasch added that his role would include "everything else--everything that Alain doesn't want to do."

Bouchard elaborated on how his new role would affect acquisitions. It "means more grassroots work on big opportunities in markets where we do not have resources on the ground. [For example], when I travel in Europe or other continents, I go for three or four days and then [return], and I get busy at other stuff. Now with my new role, I will be able to spend a few weeks, a month in this market if I want to, if I see the opportunity, so I will meet with industry people, companies that have convenience stores that are maybe not their focus … so I will be better positioned to look at these."

LAVAL, Quebec -- With an even sharper eye on acquisitions than ever before, Alain Bouchard has decided to take a new role as founder and executive chairman of the board of directors of Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. starting Sept. 24, 2014, when chief operating officer Brian Hannasch will be promoted to the position of president and chief executive officer at the Laval, Quebec-based convenience store giant.

On a conference call to announce the management changes, Bouchard said he intends to be a very active executive chairman, focusing on the growth and development of Couche-Tard, serving as a mentor and coach to Hannasch and from time to time, joining the executive team on store visits.

"I see this change as an evolution," said Bouchard. "It will let me invest more of my time in acquisitions and new industry opportunities, and trust me--there are many out there."

When pressed by the media during the call's Q&A session, he would not say, however, whether Couche-Tard was going after Hess Corp.'s retail network up for sale on the East Coast, nor would he give any indication if he has widened the quest for acquisitions geographically.

Couche-Tard's next acquisition is always top of mind as 7-Eleven and other large chains continue to expand. "We always said acquisitions, surely a major acquisition, is always challenging, always take a lot of time, a lot of analysis, but I will try to accelerate the process and find the right opportunity for this great company," said Bouchard. "It's a big commitment for me to focus on this part, and hopefully I will be able to find the opportunities out there but obviously our approach will always be of discipline."

While North America and Europe remain Couche-Tard's main growth markets for now, expansion in the rest of the world "could happen."

"I must confess, I have the same sense of excitement about retail that I had when I founded this organization over 34 years ago," said Bouchard, who added that he looks back upon that journey with a sense of fulfillment and pride. "And today, I still love what I do. In fact, when we were setting up the business, the best thing we had going for us was our can-do attitude. We constantly look at what worked better for customers and for our business. This is the DNA that has been at the heart of our growth, and I'm happy to see it's alive across Couche-Tard today."

As Bouchard noted, Couche-Tard's story is not just one of tremendous growth and expansion, but rather of growth with discipline, profitability and with aggressive targets, and always designed to keep the balance sheet in good shape. "I have complete faith that Brian will not only continue this journey but also take us to new heights," he said.

"I have had the privilege of realizing a life-long dream of developing, together with extremely talented colleagues, a great, global convenience store and fuel chain we can all be proud of," said Bouchard. "Now, after more than three decades as president and CEO, it's time to continue my journey with Couche-Tard from a new perspective. … I will still be at the office on a daily basis, will take part in the results review every four weeks and the budgeting process. I will also take part in the strategic discussions and serve as a mentor and coach to our next generation of leaders."

He added, "We have an amazing senior leadership team, and Brian is the right person to lead it. He has been intimately involved in developing our strategy, improving our business, and he has played a pivotal role in the material acquisitions we made over the last 13 years, including our largest and most recent, Statoil Fuel & Retail in Europe. His decisive leadership, his management skills and his deep experience across the entire value chain of our business uniquely qualify him to step into this role. He is well-respected across our industry, he inspires our people and he embodies Couche-Tard's core values."

Hannasch joined Couche-Tard in 2001 as part of the acquisition of Midwest U.S. c-store chain Bigfoot Food Stores LLC, which was Couche-Tard's first step into U.S. territory. He quickly moved from vice president of operations for the Midwest division to become vice president of integration and then senior vice president for North America, before being promoted to his current role of COO in 2010. Hannasch has played an active role in the steady growth of Couche-Tard.

"I am both humbled and excited by the opportunity to lead Couche-Tard," said Hannasch, "particularly in a landscape that offers both challenges and unprecedented opportunities. We will stand firm by the DNA that has made Couche-Tard what it is today, and continue to act decisively to maintain our strong competitive position. I look forward to building on Alain's legacy and, together with our talented, committed, skilled and experienced people, from the shop floor to the boardroom, to taking Couche-Tard to even greater heights."

When asked what differences he have from Bouchard in terms of management style or strategy, Hannasch said that the two are very similar. "I'm a curious person by nature, so I would probably be a little more hands-on," he said. "Alain, the founders and board have allowed me to very closely participate in crafting of the strategies of the company over the last few years, so I'm very much aligned and feel ownership of those strategies and have the utmost confidence in the management team we have here and in Europe, so it's again staying the course of what we've been doing and will continue to do."

Hannasch, who currently lives in Columbus, Ind., near Circle K Midwest's headquarters, will relocate to Montreal after his daughter starts college this fall. He also plans to take French lessons so he can more fully engage the company's shareholders.

As reported in a 21st Century Smoke/CSP Daily News Flash, Couche-Tard's executive management team will share Hannasch's COO responsibilities.

As of Feb. 2, 2014, Couche-Tard's network has 6,221 c-stores throughout North America, including 4,724 stores with fuel dispensing. Its North American network consists of 13 business units, including nine in the United States (as Circle K) covering 38 states and the District of Columbia and four in Canada covering all 10 provinces (as Mac's and Couche-Tard).

In Europe, Couche-Tard operates the Statoil retail network across Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Denmark), Poland, the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and Russia with 2,263 stores, most of which offer road transportation fuel and convenience products, while the others are unmanned automated stations that offer road transportation fuel only. And under licensing agreements, about 4,200 stores operate under the Circle K banner in 10 other countries worldwide (China, Guam, Honduras, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Macau, Mexico, Vietnam and United Arab Emirates), which brings to more than 12,600 the number of sites in Couche-Tard's network.

Part of CSP's 2014 Convenience Top 101 retailers