(Dec. 14, 2009 - Crain's)—In a surprise move, U.S. Foodservice Inc. President and CEO Robert Aiken has resigned, leaving Chicago’s largest privately held company and the nation’s second-largest food distributor in search of a new leader.
An internal memo to employees dated Thursday said Mr. Aiken had left for “personal reasons” and planned to join a private-equity firm to “return to his roots in mergers and acquisitions of smaller companies.” He is going to work for Chicago-based Bolder Capital LLC.
Mr. Aiken, a lawyer by training, is credited with turning around the Rosemont-based distributor after an accounting scandal rocked the former unit of Dutch supermarket giant Royal Ahold in 2003. He joined the firm in January 2004, and it was acquired in 2007 by two large New York private-equity firms, Clayton Dubilier & Rice and KKR & Co.
“It’s sad to see him go. He was a great leader,” said Bob Goldin, an executive vice-president at Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based food industry consulting firm that does work for U.S. Foodservice. “I’m surprised because the company seemed to be doing well. My sense is he’d gotten them back on track in terms of organization and image. He really, really was doing some great stuff there.”
The memo said Mr. Aiken, who was not available for comment, would remain CEO “for a period of time” while the board conducts a search for his successor.
U.S. Foodservice had 2008 revenue of $19.80 billion, according to Crain’s list of the largest local private companies. It has 865 Chicago-area employees and 26,070 workers worldwide.
by Paul Merrion