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EXCLUSIVE-Discount retailer Dollar General takes steps to find possible CEO successor -sources

Feb 22 (Reuters) - Discount chain Dollar General Corp , one of the few U.S. retailers thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic, is taking steps to find a potential successor to Chief Executive Todd Vasos, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

While no decision has been made about Vasos stepping down, Dollar General has started conversations with headhunting firms and is considering candidates, the sources said.

Dollar General has been looking within its ranks and will assess the performance of its top executives against those at rival companies, the sources said. Dollar General Chief Operating Officer Jeff Owen is under consideration, one of the sources added.

The sources requested anonymity because the matter is confidential.

A Dollar General spokesman said Vasos had not communicated any plans to the company regarding a potential departure after his contract ends in June, noting it was “merely good governance” to plan for a transition. Vasos’ contract renews automatically on an annual basis in June unless terminated or renegotiated.

“We have been speaking with management consulting firms related to executive development programs and as part of our succession planning process. We have not entered into a contract with any such firm to date,” the spokesman said.

Vasos has expanded Dollar General’s offerings to include more fresh produce and is wooing higher-income shoppers with new products in categories such as home decor, in a bid to stave off competition from large rivals such as Walmart Inc and Amazon.com Inc.

Dollar General has also invested heavily in private label brands, developing lines for items ranging from cat food to shampoo. It has added more distribution centers to supply its stores with dairy products, deli meats and frozen entrees. It has more than 16,000 stores, often in areas underserved by other retailers.

Dollar General shares have risen 170% since Vasos became CEO in 2015, compared to a 115% rise in the S&P 500 General Merchandise Stores index over the same period.

The COVID-19 outbreak has boosted Dollar General’s sales, as shoppers stay home more and buy more household necessities. Dollar General operates in small communities with few retailers.

The Goodlettsville, Tennessee-based company has taken steps to protect its more than 157,000 workers during the pandemic, and announced last month that it would pay its hourly and salaried workers for receiving COVID-19 vaccines.

It also said it would award $50 million in appreciation bonuses to its frontline workers in its fourth quarter, for a total of up to about $173 million for fiscal 2020. (Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Additional reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal in Bangalore and Melissa Fares in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)

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