04/26/2017 05:48 EDT | Updated 04/26/2017 06:00 EDT

Hydro One finance chief going to Empire as it revives Sobeys grocery business

STELLARTON, N.S. — The parent company of the Sobeys grocery chain has hired away Hydro One's chief financial officer.

Michael Vels will leave the Ontario power grid operator on May 19 and become chief financial officer at Empire Co. Ltd. of Stellarton, N.S., on June 12.

Vels played a key role in the 2015 initial public offering of Hydro One stock (TSX:H), which had been 100 per cent owned by the provincial government.

Prior to that, he spent about a decade as CFO at Maple Leaf Foods (TSX:MFI) as the company underwent a multi-year transformation of its business, including the sale of its Canada Bread subsidiary to a Mexican company.

Empire CEO Michael Medline — himself a recent addition to Sobeys — says Vels is qualified for his new role because of his understanding of the food business and successful corporate transformations.

Hydro One says it will begin a search for a new chief financial officer immediately.

Medline, a former Canadian Tire executive who was hired by Empire (TSX:EMP.A) in January, is leading the company's efforts to win back customer loyalty that was lost after Sobeys bought Safeway's stores in Western Canada.

Clinton Keay, who has been Empire's interim chief financial officer since July 2016, will become executive vice-president for technology and lead efforts to restructure how it does business.