What Will PetSmart’s New CEO Bring to the Table?



Yesterday, PetSmart announced that it has hired J.K. Symancyk as its new CEO, lauding his “25-year track record as a proven leader” in the retail industry. But what exactly is in that track record, and what does it tell us about the potential future of the big-box pet store chain? 


Interestingly, a closer look at Symancyk’s previous two positions—as president of the Meijer supermarket chain and then as president and CEO of the Academy Sports + Outdoors sporting goods chain—paints two very different pictures.


At Meijer, he was a wunderkind who quickly rose up the ranks over a six-year period to become the youngest president in the chain’s history. During his tenure with the family-owned retailer, Symancyk was largely credited for contributing to a strong period of growth driven by increased same-store sales and customer service.


On the other hand, while serving as the chief executive of Academy Sports + Outdoors, he presided over what some sporting goods industry observers describe as a tough period for what was once a family-owned chain after it was acquired by a private-equity firm. It was a period that has reportedly been defined by fundamental changes in the company’s approach from a service- and experience-based retail model to one focused on price and expansion. 


Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to put Academy Sports + Outdoors difficulties squarely on Symancyk. After all, in situations where private-equity firms acquire a business, it is usually ownership that drives fundamental changes like these in search of a profit; executives often simply end up serving as an instrument of that change. Maybe with a different ownership situation, Symancyk’s tenure at Academy Sports + Outdoors would have looked a lot more like his time at Meijer. Of course, PetSmart is also owned by a private-equity firm, so… 


At the end of the day, we can only wait and see what PetSmart’s new CEO brings to the table and what the future holds for the pet specialty channel's largest retailer under his leadership.


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