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Obituary: James Wood, Former A&P CEO

James Wood, the British-born supermarket executive who oversaw the restructuring of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P) in the 1980s, died March 26 at the age of 85, according to a published report.

Once the top U.S. supermarket chain, Montvale, N.J.-based A&P had fallen to third place by 1980, when Wood was appointed CEO by the chain's new parent company, Germany-based Tengelmann Group. Between 1979 and 1982, A&P's losses came to $330 million.

In response, Wood shuttered 500 underperforming locations and sold long-term leases, using the cash to overhaul the remaining supermarkets. By fiscal 1989, earnings had risen 22.5 percent annually and sales had nearly doubled to $11 billion. The grocer's profit margin almost tripled to 1.3 percent, versus an industry average of 1.04 percent.

Despite that dramatic turnaround, Wood’s following decade at A&P was less successful, with "[f]inancials … frozen in a time warp since 1993," Bloomberg noted, citing a 1999 Forbes report. He retired from A&P in 1997, remaining chairman until 2001.

Wood came to the United States in 1974, a year after the U.K. company for which he worked acquired Grand Union Co., at that time the 10th-largest U.S. grocer. He became that chain's president, COO and ultimately CEO. It was from Grand Union that he was hired to reverse A&P’s fortunes.

Wood served on a number of corporate and non-profit boards, including Schering-Plough Corp., and Asarco Inc. He was chairman of UNICEF's North American Corporate Alliance of CEOs from 1989 to 1991.

Survivors include his wife, Colleen, to whom he was married for 61 years, and two daughters.

Visitation will be Tuesday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Feeney Funeral Home in Ridgewood, N.J. A Mass will be held Wednesday, April 1, at 10:30 a.m. at St. Gabriel the Archangel Church in Saddle River, N.J., and burial will be at Christ the King Cemetery in Franklin Lakes, N.J.

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