It’s a bit like musical chairs at the top of the 2013 Inside Retail Magazine Top 50 Most Powerful Retailers list, with the top positions determined by the time executives have occupied their positions, their achievements, and new initiatives that will change and reshape retailing.
Two years ago, Ian McLeod and Stuart Machin topped the rankings for their success in reinvigorating the Coles food business, while former Metcash CEO, Andrew Reitzer, headed the list in 2012 in recognition of the wholesaler’s growth and expansion into the new categories of hardware with Mitre 10 and auto accessories with Autobarn.
This year Woolworths’ Grant O’Brein comes in at number one. O’Brien succeeded Michael Luscombe as MD and CEO of Woolworths in October 2011 after previous roles as COO Australian food and petrol, director new business development, GM Woolworths liquor, and senior business manager marketing supermarkets.
His career at Woolworths was nurtured by Michael Kent at Purity Supermarkets in Tasmania, and he was brought to the mainland in a marketing role by another retail executive, the highly regarded Bernie Brookes, CEO of Myer.
The selection of O’Brien at the top of Inside Retail Magazine’s Top 50 Most Powerful Retailers list recognises he is no longer in the shadows of Roger Corbett or Michael Luscombe and is developing his own strategies to continue Woolworths’ growth in a market
that is increasingly competitive and exposed to global trends.
hile Coles’ food business continues to post better percentage growth than Woolworths, O’Brien’s brand remains conclusively Australia’s biggest retailer, with a wide margin in annual sales over its rival in the supermarket business.
Significantly, while Wesfarmers struggles with Target and, arguably, Kmart in terms of growth, Woolworths’ Big W is producing better results in the discount department store category and Woolworths liquor division, including Dan Murphy’s, continues to outpace the Coles liquor business.
Woolworths is also Australia’s biggest online retailer, with sales of more than $1 billion transacted online, 70 per cent of those in its food and liquor businesses.
O’Brien jettisoned the Dick Smith consumer electronics business because it did not align with Woolworths business model and retail strengths.
But he is bullish about the fledgling Masters Home Improvement hardware chain that has generated encouraging sales to date but has also incurred higher than expected losses in its establishment phase.
Masters Home Improvement is usually compared unfavourably to the Wesfarmers heavyweight, Bunnings Warehouse, but Woolworths will certainly become a force in its own right as it expands, and indeed has already forced Bunnings and many other chain retailers to change their strategies and retail offer.
O’Brien declares he is not a caretaker at Woolworths, but as CEO is a catalyst for change, transformation, and innovation, and is mulling over opportunities in markets beyond Australia and New Zealand.
Further, he is ensuring Woolworths utilises technology back of store and in the customer interface, launching a Woolworths shopping app that has attracted more than 3.1 million customers, and developing new online opportunities, including a Dan Murphy’s liquor site, to build on an already significant sales platform.
As CEO of Australia’s largest retailer, O’Brien has the ear of politicians and could potentially have more influence on public policy going forward with a Federal Coalition Government, possibly even sufficient influence to quell the fervour of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s mission to ensure competitive markets.
The mild mannered but determined O’Brien, who climbed the ranks within Woolworths from a start on the shop floor at Purity Supermarkets, has earned the top spot on the Inside Retail Magazine 50 Most Powerful Retailers list, following in the footsteps of predecessors Michael Luscombe and Roger Corbett.
Ian McLeod, the Scottish retailer who has reinvigorated the Coles food business and continues to drive a low price strategy for sales, earnings, and market share growth, is second on the Top 50 Most Powerful Retailers list.
Two years ago, McLeod and Stuart Machin, another retailer from the UK, were jointly ranked number one on the listing, and last year the two Coles executives were ranked second to Andrew Reitzer.
Machin is now included in the rankings in his own right at number 30, after Wesfarmers appointed him to take up the challenge of revitalising the struggling Target chain.
Frank, Peter, and Stephen Lowy, who control Westfield, remain near the top of the rankings, this year moving up one from fourth place to number three as they reshape the Westfield property portfolio, integrate an online presence, and re-mix tenancies to secure their customer franchise and dominant brand position in Australian retailing.
Gerry Harvey and wife, Katie Page, are ranked fourth in 2013 given their influence as the powerhouse duo behind Harvey Norman and Domayne, while Tjeerd Jegen and Steve Greentree of Woolworths’ food and liquor businesses, are ranked sixth this year.
Ruslan Kogan, who expects to rack up annual sales of around $350 million this year through Kogan Technologies and Milan Direct, is ranked fifth on the Inside Retail Magazine 2013 listings, up from ninth last year.
Kogan, the most recognisable face of the online retailing revolution in Australia, is looking for investment in his business on a forecast of $2 billion in revenues within the next three years.
Also moving up in the Inside Retail Magazine Top 50 Most Powerful Retailers listngs this year are John Gillam, CEO of Wesfarmers’ juggernaut, Bunnings Warehouse; and Peter Birtles, CEO of multi- brand leisure retailer, Super Retail Group.
Gillam’s continuing success at Bunnings sees him move from 12th position in 2012 to number seven this year, while Birtles, who is now on the lookout for another retail acquisition after bedding down Rebel Sport and Ray’s Outdoors, has jumped from 10 last year to number eight in 2013.
Rounding out the Top 10 are Bernie Brookes, Myer CEO, in ninth position; and Patrick Noone, who heads expanding US-based retailer, Costco, at 10.
Brookes has connections and is highly respected in the retail industry, and his department store chain is crucial to the local fashion industry as it attempts to counter the foreign invasion of global retail fashion brands.
Noone’s Costco has moved into profits in Australia and is forcing other retailers, including Coles and Woolworths, to rethink their business strategies.
Ian Morrice formally took over at Metcash in June from Reitzer, who was Inside Retail Magazine’s Most Powerful Retailer in 2012.
Morrice has obviously yet to put his imprint on Metcash, but his role is a critical one for independent supermarkets and convenience as well as hardware and auto accessories stores, warranting his inclusion on this year’s list at 11.
Four retail executives on the ascendancy on this year’s list are Terry Smart, JB Hi-Fi CEO, in 12th position; Tom Daunt, Aldi CEO, at 14; Gary Perlstein, Specialty Fashion Group, at 19; and Don Meij, Domino’s Pizza CEO, at 24.
Smart has well earned his stripes after taking over from Richard Uechtritz at JB Hi-Fi in 2010, while Daunt has supermarket rivals nervous with the expansion of the Aldi chain.
Perlstein just missed the rankings in 2012, but earns his place this year because of improved trading at SFG, an online retail strategy that other retailers are watching closely, and a changing approach to supply chain to counter fast fashion foreign retailers establishing stores in Australia.
Meij has built one of the most successful fast food businesses in Australia and is leading the pack in utilising technology while also continuing to expand in overseas markets.
Among the online retailers, Gabby Leibovich and Hezi Leibovich, of Catch of the Day, are ranked 21, with Paul Greenberg of Deals Direct at 47.
Jeff Bezos, the driver behind Amazon, continues to be the global pacesetter in online retailing, and is ranked at 50.
Both retail brands have forced local fashion retailers to revise their business strategies, and next year’s Top 50 influential retailers list could well see more overseas entrants as they challenge and re-shape the Australian retail market.
Inside Retail Magazine’s Top 50 Most Powerful Retailers List includes two pharmacy veterans, Sam Gance of Chemist Warehouse at 16; and Terry White (along with son, Anthony White) of Terry White Chemists at 46.
Other fashion retailers on the list are Solomon Lew and Mark McInnes of Just Group at 15; Peter Johnson of Cotton On at 20; and Andrew Bousie of Busbrands at 45; along with footwear retailer, John Charlton, of Spendless Shoes at 41.
Department store executives, Paul Zahra of David Jones comes in at number 17, while Harris Scarfe’s Jason Murray and Joe Barberis sit at 48.
Executives from retail franchises include Michael Ford, who heads up the Good Guys at 23, Nabi Saleh from Gloria Jeans Coffees at 25; 7-Eleven CEO, Warren Wilmot, at 36; and Tony Alford, Retail Food Group leader at 44.
Most Powerful Women in Retail
Katie Page of Harvey Norman, is the top ranked woman in Inside Retail Magazine’s 2013 rankings and there are five other women in the list: Melinda Smith (with Don Stallings) of Masters Home Improvement at 13; Naomi Milgrom of Sussan Group at 18; Catriona Noble of McDonald’s at 22; Lorna Jane Clarkson of Lorna Jane, 29; and Julie Coates of Big W at 34.
A new face to list this year is Sally- Anne Newson, country manager, Australia at Asos, the online apparel retailer that is rapidly building a customer franchise in Australia. Newson comes in at 43.
Absent from the 2013 female rankings is Deborah Sharkey of eBay, who in July returned to her native US. She has been succeeded by Jooman Park, who is listed at 26.
This article first appeared in Inside Retail Magazine’s October/November 2013 issue. To subscribe, click here.