president, CEO | Lowe’s
Ellison has become one the nation’s most highly touted executives since he was named the top executive at the hardware-store chain in 2018. Since then, he’s revamped the company’s management team and culture and invested heavily in digital services to better compete with rival Home Depot.
The Memphis University graduate and Emory University MBA has a strong competitive streak, having been bypassed for the CEO job at Home Depot before taking the top spot at JCPenney. While he had limited success during his three years at the department store chain, Lowe’s picked him to succeed Robert Niblock at the Mooresville-based company.
From 2016-18, before Ellison arrived, Lowe’s’ net income averaged about $2.9 billion. Over the past three years, from 2020-22, the company’s profit has averaged $6.9 billion, aided by massive increases in remodeling and home improvements during the pandemic.
In 2021 Barron’s rated Ellison as one of its “Top CEOs.” This year, the National Retail Federation gave Ellison its “The Visionary” award for driving positive change within
the retail industry, specifically noting his support of Lowe’s communities and front-line workers through the pandemic. That award has been given to many famous retail industry leaders including the CEOs
of Walmart and Target.
Ellison leads a team of more than 300,000 associates and about 2,200 stores across the U.S. Earlier this year, the company sold approximately 450 stores it had operated
Lowe’s still trails Home Depot in some key metrics, including an operating profit margin that was about five percentage points lower in the past year. Ellison is working to change that.
JT Alexander & Son and Home Run Markets
A third-generation family owner, Alexander acquired the convenience-store business in 2010 from his father, Tom, after joining the organization in 1994. The first of 18 Home Run Markets stores opened in Mooresville in 2011. It started in 1935 with a Texaco station in Mooresville.
CEO, chairman, president | Cato Corp.
The UNC Charlotte graduate is a third-generation CEO at the apparel retailer formed by his grandfather, father and uncle in 1946. He’s been the public company’s leader since 1999, overseeing 1,320 stores in 32 states. The company broke even in 2022 on revenue of $759 million.
president | Mast General Store
She was 11 when her parents, John and Faye Cooper, purchased the original Watauga County store in 1979. It’s now a popular chain with 11 locations in four states. She has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from UNC Charlotte. Employees receive an annual bonus that has averaged three to five weeks of pay in recent years.
president | Harris Teeter
The Appalachian State University graduate joined Kroger’s 260-store Harris Teeter unit in 2020 and became president last year. She spent 17 years at Salisbury-based Food Lion and five years at Matthews-based Family Dollar before opening a consulting business. Harris Teeter changed its logo earlier this year with its new “Your Neighborhood Market” slogan.
president | Sonic Automotive
The former AutoNation executive joined the company in 2005 and gained his current title in 2018. Sonic has 175 dealerships in 25 states that sold more than 275,000 cars in the past year. In 2022, Sonic posted a 13% gain in revenue to $14 billion, with a profit of $88.5 million.
president, general counsel |
NC Retail Merchants Association
The Campbell University law graduate worked for the N.C. Farm Bureau before joining the retailer group as general counsel in 1998. He became president in 2012. Recent lobbying issues include laws to combat organized retail crime rings and whether local governments can ban plastic bags at the point of sale.
Favorite family tradition: A summer beach trip to Amelia Island, Florida.
Favorite N.C. place to visit: Pinehurst
What do you listen to on your commute: “Politics of the United States” or Led Zeppelin
Major inspiration: Being a good husband and dad is the most important thing in my life.
Career highlight: Being named president of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association.
Favorite hobby after work: Grill something on my Green Egg or walk nine holes of golf with airpods and good tunes.
Best advice to industry newcomer: Follow the
Golden Rule — treat everyone the way you would want
to be treated.
Key industry change in next five years: A resurgence of independent retailers — many of whom switched career paths during COVID.
president, CEO | Alex Lee
The Notre Dame accounting graduate is part of the
fourth generation of Georges to run Alex Lee, which
owns the Merchants Distributors wholesale grocery business and Winston-Salem-based Lowes Foods supermarkets that together employ more than 10,000 people. He’s been CEO since 2014 and chairs the Food Industry Association board.
president, CEO | Advance Auto Parts
Greco, the top executive at the 4,700-store retailer since 2016, is retiring in December. The former Frito-Lay executive helped Advance become more competitive with rivals AutoZone and O’Reilly Auto Parts as earnings per share doubled over the past five years. Sales were $11.2 billion last year. A successor hasn’t been named.
CEO | Compass Group North America
Green has served as CEO since 1999, having joined the United Kingdom-based food service giant business in 1987. The company employs 280,000 people in North America. Fortune magazine has rated Compass among the “World’s Most Admired Companies” for four straight years.
president | Food Lion
The Cornell University graduate joined parent Ahold Delhaize in 1998 and has led the 1,100-store, 82,000-employee N.C.-based chain since 2014. It operates in 10 states. President Joe Biden appointed Ham this year to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition.
president, CEO | Furnitureland South
The High Point University graduate runs the 1.3-million-square-foot operation, billed as the world’s largest furniture store. His parents, Darrell and Stella, opened a store in High Point in 1972, then expanded to the current giant location in 1990. More than 1,000 different brands are sold.
Favorite family tradition: Christmas with our family, and now taking on a few football games at Alabama where our youngest daughter is in school. Roll Tide!
Favorite N.C. place to visit: The mountains near Blowing Rock and Banner Elk.
What do you listen to on your commute: Fox News
Major inspiration: My father was an amazing man, husband, and godly servant leader.
Career highlight: Building a world-class team of individuals that have worked together to double our sales volume in eight years
Favorite hobby after work: A great workout.
Best advice to industry newcomer: Spend several days in a furniture factory so that you can appreciate
the quality and craftsmanship that goes into
Key industry change in next five years: Utilizing technology to make the shopping experience both fun
CEO | Hendrick Automotive Group,
The winningest team owner in NASCAR history rolls on with his $11 billion-plus dealership operation that sold more than 200,000 vehicles in the past year. The Warrenton native leads more than 10,000 employees at 93 dealerships and 21 collision centers in 13 states.
CEO | Compare Foods
Founded in 1989 by the Pena family, Compare Foods is the largest ethnic supermarket chain on the East Coast with 24 stores from Massachusetts to South Carolina. Jorge served two terms as chairman of the Latin American Coalition, the largest Latino advocacy group in North Carolina. He has a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University and law degree from Yeshiva University.
president, CEO | Ingles Markets
Lanning became CEO of the 200-plus store supermarket chain in 2016. The Western Carolina University graduate started at the family-controlled public company at 16 as a service clerk. Profit for the 2022 fiscal year totaled $273 million, compared with $250 million and $179 million in the previous two years.
president | Lowes Foods
The University of Houston graduate worked at Walmart before joining the chain in 2013. This year, the 80-store company plans to open stores in Pittsboro, Concord and Kannapolis, plus Aiken and Indian Land, South Carolina. Hickory-based Alex Lee owns the business, which ranks 65th in Progressive Grocer’s top 100 U.S. operators.
CEO, owner | Variety Wholesalers
The former state budget director and state representative oversees more than 400 Roses and other discount stores in 15 states. The graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University law school is on the UNC System board of governors. He made news last year by unsuccessfully opposing the system’s move to new Raleigh offices.
CEO, president | Shoe Show Inc.
Tucker’s parents started the retailer in 1960 in Kannapolis. She became president in 2018 and oversees a $1 billion-plus business with more than 1,150 stores in 47 states also under the brands Shoe Dept. and Burlington Shoes. Last year, the company acquired Charleston, South Carolina-based retailer Half-Moon Outfitters, which has eight stores.
Favorite family tradition: Christmas Eve dinner and opening our Christmas pajamas.
Favorite N.C. place to visit: North Carolina mountains
What do you listen to on your commute: Y2K channel
Major inspiration: My parents; they have taught me the business and to love God in everything you do.
Becoming CEO/president of Shoe Show
Favorite hobby after work: Riding my golf cart around my property.
Best advice to industry newcomer: Stay focused and don’t get distracted.
Key industry change in next five years: Technology always causes changes.
owner | Metrolina Greenhouses
VanWingerden, along with his mother, Vickie, and siblings, oversees a literally growing company of 1,500 employees that supplies more than 1,400 retail outlets. The Emory University MBA worked eight years for Procter and Gamble before rejoining the family business in 2011. His brother, Art, is co-CEO.
CEO | Tanger Factory Outlet Centers
The George Washington University graduate succeeded Stephen Tanger as top executive at the 36-center chain in January 2021. He previously was president of rival Simon Premium Outlets and also worked in the real estate divisions of Gap and Ralph Lauren. A new center is opening in Nashville, Tennessee, later this year.