Lowe’s Cos. (LOW), the second-largest U.S. home-improvement retailer, hired Husqvarna AB (HUSQB) executive Michael A. Jones as its top merchant and promoted Stephen J. Szilagyi to supply-chain chief as the retailer works to catch faster-growing Home Depot (HD) Inc.

Jones was president of the outdoor equipment maker’s operations in North America and Latin America, Mooresville, North Carolina-based Lowe’s said today in a statement. Szilagyi, 49, joined Lowe’s in 2001 and has served as senior vice president of distribution.

Chief Executive Officer Robert Niblock has cut jobs, closed stores and shuffled executives in the past year and a half after trailing larger Home Depot in sales growth. Lowe’s increased comparable-store sales 1.8 percent in the third quarter, trailing the 4.2 percent gain by Atlanta-based Home Depot.

Jones, who started at Lowe’s yesterday, and Szilagyi work two levels below Niblock, 50, creating the potential for them to become CEO. When hiring senior executives, Lowe’s recruits candidates with the potential to move into jobs one or two levels higher, Maureen Ausura, chief human-resources officer, said in an interview Oct. 19.

“We always hire new executives to these senior positions at Lowe’s who have the ability to go beyond just the responsibilities we’re asking them to step into,” Chief Customer Officer Greg Bridgeford, 58, who will oversee Jones, said today in a telephone interview. “There are no discussions about Robert leaving his current position.”