Staples Monday announced executive shuffling and the departure of its chief of North American stores, Demos Parneros, but made no mention of job cuts first reported by Fortune and also confirmed by the Boston Globe, both citing anonymous company sources.
Shira Goodman, president of the company’s North American commercial operations, has been named president of its North American operations, with responsibility for the company’s business-to-business, online, and retail operations across the United States and Canada. She’s been with Staples since 1992.
John Wilson, president of Staples Europe, has been named president of international operations and transformation, with responsibility for operations in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, and Asia and for the company’s strategy and overall transformation efforts. Wilson was Staples CFO from 1992-1996 and rejoined the company in 2012. Otis Pannell, with Staples in various positions since 1989, will take on responsibility for retail operations in the United States and report to Goodman.
That Staples is reportedly laying off hundreds of workers at its Framingham headquarters is a sign, analysts told the Boston Globe, that it is coming to terms with the fact that the planned merger with Office Depot will fail to get Federal Trade Commission approval.
Staples as of press time hadn’t confirmed the lay-offs, with the Globe and Fortune both citing current and former employees in their reports.
Staples spokesman Mark Cautela wouldn’t comment on any layoffs, according to the Globe, which said he refered the paper to Monday’s press release in which CEO Ron Sargent says the company is “streamlining the organization and building a simplified structure that will speed decision-making and enable us to focus on driving profitable growth. These changes will help us compete in a rapidly evolving marketplace, either as a standalone company or in combination with Office Depot.”
While the FTC in 2013 allowed Office Depot’s acquisition of OfficeMax because of increased competition in retail office supplies, that may not be enough for it to allow a Staples-Office Depot merger.
Antitrust advocates like the American Antitrust Institute have warned that, while online retail mitigates the anti-competitive effects of a merger somewhat, competitive concerns remain in the office supplies segment of long-term contracts with businesses.
And while the proposed merger of Staples and Office Depot has already garnered regulatory approval from Australia, New Zealand, and China, U.S. FTC and European Union regulators are being far more cautious.
In an effort to save the merger deal, Staples has offered to bring some $600 million in contracts to office supply wholesaler Essendant, formerly United Stationers, which could presumably boost the business of much smaller company supplies retailers like ULINE and W.B. Mason. Essendant been consolidating and expanding its own wholesale business, and said during an earnings call in October that it would be open to acquisitions, although the company didn’t comment on the specific idea of acquiring any of Staples' business.
But regulators don't appear to believe that even that solution would have enough of a mitigating effect on the loss of competition in that space. To give a sense of the size of Staples’ sales through business contracts, it will likely garner some $8.4 billion this year, while its 1,200 stores garner some $9.6 billion.
“I think it’s bad news, more bad news unfortunately for Staples,” Charles Kane, a senior lecturer in international finance and entrepreneurial studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management, told the Globe. “They’re in a very difficult market space competing with all kinds of new players. It sounds to me like this merger is more of a desperate thing.”