Inside Retail’s Top 50 People in Retail

top 50 people in retailInside Retail Magazine’s annual rankings of the Top 50 People in Australian Retail.

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In 2013, Ian Moir was not ranked in Inside Retail’s Top 50 People in Retail list, despite the success of Country Road and its August 2012 acquisition of the Witchery and Mimco chains from Gresham Private Equity in a $172 million deal.

In 2014, however, Moir heads Inside Retail’s Top 50 People in Retail list after two significant on-market plays that have created a new global department store retail entity operating across two continents, and potentially forging further restructuring in the retail industry in Australia.

Had Moir been domiciled in Australia when the 2013 list was compiled, the acquisition, along with Country Road’s financial performance outpointing most of its fashion industry rivals, in addition to expansion into South Africa, would have earned Moir a top 20 ranking.

But he had moved to South Africa to become CEO of Woolworths, the listed South African food, fashion, and homewares retailer, which held a controlling stake in Country Road.

The Scottish-born Moir, who is an Australian citizen, turned around the fortunes of Country Road, which was on the verge of collapse in 1998, after an unsuccessful foray into US retail.

His success in reinvigorating the flagging fashion brand in Australia saw him promoted to replace Simon Susman as CEO of Woolworths Holdings in South Africa in January 2010, months after delivering a 60.4 per cent lift in Country Road earnings on an 18.5 per cent increase in revenues for the 2009 financial year.

The financial performance wasn’t just a one off event, with Country Road continuing to trade strongly in market conditions that other fashion retailers found challenging.

Moir made big promises when he became Woolworths CEO, but delivered on them immediately, with the investors who backed his changes pocketing a 330 per cent total return on their money in his first two years in the job.

As part of his role at Woolworths, Moir was mulling possible acquisitions to boost growth last year and David Jones was on the radar because it was underperforming and beset by controversy and apparent conflict between its board and CEO, Paul Zahra.

A Myer-David Jones merger proposal mooted in October last year but only revealed publicly in February, and a revamp of the David Jones board cleared the way for Moir to take a serious look at acquiring the department store group.

Moir’s knowledge of the Australian market and the two pre- eminent department store chains, along with his success at Country Road and Woolworths, gave him the gravitas to win the backing of the Woolworths board of directors in Cape Town and funding for the bid from Standard Bank, Citigroup, and JP Morgan.

Moir launched a knockout $4 a share bid for David Jones in April, predicated on achieving outright ownership, only to find Solomon Lew, the wily retail investor who controls Premier Retail, buying up scrip.

Lew had been a thorn in Moir’s side for years, using his near 12 per cent minority stake in Country Road as a platform to persistently criticise the trading performance, strategic direction, and management of the fashion retailer.

Moir’s experience with Lew as a minority shareholder was a key reason he insisted that Woolworths would walk away from the $2.2 billion David Jones bid if it could not secure 100 per cent of the shares.

In a surprise move, Moir launched a parallel bid for the minority shareholdings in Country Road at a remarkable $17 a share in what proved to be a successful attempt to encourage Lew to surrender his shareholdings in both Country Road and David Jones.

The Woolworths takeover of David Jones has created the second largest  department store retailer in the southern hemisphere, with sales of around $5.7 billion from 1151 stores across 16 countries. Around 43 per cent of sales will be generated in Australia and New Zealand.

Moir has a strategic plan for David Jones and the now fully owned Country Road that will have implications for the industry in Australia going forward, particularly rival department store group, Myer, which saw Moir torpedo its merger plan.

Top 50 2014The big wigs

Moir’s exploits are recognised with the top ranking in the 2014 Top 50 People in Retail list, but has also gifted Lew the number two spot.

Lew, the former Coles Myer chairman and billionaire investor, now has a tidy war chest that could fund some significant takeovers
or, at the very least, an accelerated rollout of Smiggle stores overseas and expansion of the Peter Alexander chain.

Lew could easily manage a $2 billion takeover by adding the Woolworths deal profit to an existing pot of cash he has kept to fund suitable acquisitions for Premier Retail, which includes Just Jeans, Jay Jays, Portmans, Jacque E, Dotti, Smiggle, and Peter Alexander.

Lew is now in a position to bid for Myer if he still wants the department store group he coveted in years past, but he could also make a play for other public or private fashion retailers or fund further joint ventures with international brands.

He already holds a stake in Zara’s Australian business as well as Nine West.

In any event, Lew is unlikely to remain still for long with the war chest he now commands and with
a number of acquisition targets vulnerable and tantalising in the current market, not the least of them being Myer.

While Moir and Lew have dominated retail industry headlines in 2014, Grant O’Brien, Woolworths CEO, has been relatively low key, focusing on the wrestle with Coles’ food liquor division for performance bragging rights and the underwhelming performance of the Masters Home Improvement chain and Big W.

Nevertheless, O’Brien, 2013’s top ranked executive, remains one of the most influential CEOs as head of Australia’s largest retail company with sales of more than $41 billion and, despite the two underperformers, with an eye out for potential acquisitions and possibly overseas expansion.

Inside Retail Magazine ranks Ruslan Kogan as the fourth most influential retailer in Australia in 2014 as he sizes up new categories for his online retail business that reportedly generates more than $320 million in annual revenues.

Kogan recently announced a move into sporting goods, but he also forecasts plenty of opportunity in online furniture sales through his Milan Direct site and particularly through flagship, Kogan Technologies.

Kogan runs Australia’s biggest online retail venture and enthusiastically predicts its continued growth at the expense of bricks and mortar competitors, arguing that JB Hi-Fi will lose around half of its business to online retail.

A shameless self promoter, Kogan has bolstered his online venture with publicity stunts, but is the leading spruiker for online retailing, notwithstanding that his headline forecasts aren’t necessarily supported by the detail.

Ian McLeod, another former number one ranking executive in Inside Retail Magazine’s Top 50 People in Retail list (2012), is rated number five on our list.

Formerly MD of Coles’ food and liquor, McLeod has taken up a new strategic business development role with Wesfarmers after a successful stint with the supermarkets division but a rather less meritorious scorecard in liquor.

His new Wesfarmers role has not been fully explained, but is understood to encompass oversight of all Wesfarmers’ retail brands and possibly a weather eye on new acquisitions and opportunities.

Frank, Peter, and Stephen Lowy, who spun off 47 Australian and New Zealand shopping centres into new entity, Scentre Group, in June, continue to be powerful and influential in the Australian retail industry as landlords and innovators in retail property development and management. Together, they occupy sixth position on Inside Retail’s rankings of the Top 50 People in Retail this year.

The seventh ranked executive is John Gillam, MD of Wesfarmers powerhouse, Bunnings, which has continued to chalk up solid growth figures from organic sales improvement and expansion.

Gillam has blunted Woolworths’ entry into the market with Masters and continues to improve market share and trading results.

Tjeerd Jegen and Brad Banducci are eighth on Inside Retail’s 2014 rankings of retail executives, while John Durkan, who has replaced McLeod as MD of Coles food and liquor, rounds out the top 10 in recognition of the operational scale and impact of the supermarket and liquor store goliaths.

Just ahead of Durkan at ninth are Gerry Harvey and his wife, Katie Page, who run the Harvey Norman and Domayne chains.

Page is the top ranked woman in a depleted pool of female retail executives in 2014, while Harvey remains a leading industry spokespeople, albeit his views do not always reflect broader industry interests or experience.

top 50 2014 2Beyond 10

With the reshaping of the top 10 rankings in 2014, Bernie Brookes, Myer CEO, has fallen to his lowest position since joining the department store group in 2006 after  stellar career at Woolworths.

Brookes, who was to have retired from Myer in October, agreed to stay on as CEO to pursue the proposed Myer-David Jones merger.

It is now uncertain how long Brookes will continue at Myer, with the merger torpedoed and the retailer facing significant challenges to regain sales and earnings momentum, but he is still a popular and influential industry figure and is therefore ranked at 14 this year on Inside Retail’s Top 50 People in Retail list.

Above Brookes are the experienced Iain Nairn who has taken over as David Jones CEO from Paul Zahra at number 12;
Ian Morrice, CEO of Metcash, which controls IGA supermarkets, Autobarn, and Mitre 10, in 13th place; and Aldi duo, Tom Daunt and Stefan Kopp, who occupy 11th position on the 2014 list.

Daunt and Kopp are rattling the cages of Woolworths and Coles with the expansion and marketshare gains of Aldi, and are becoming increasingly influential in the industry.

US warehouse chain, Costco, is also expanding, although more gradually than was expected five years ago.

The Costco format has had a sizeable impact on the industry and supports the selection of CEO, Patrick Noone, at 15, down from 10th position last year.

Richard Murray, the recently appointed CEO of JB Hi-Fi; Sam Gance, CEO of Chemist Warehouse; Peter Birtles, CEO of Super Retail Group; Mark McInnes, CEO of Premier Retail; and Gary Perlstein, CEO of Specialty Fashion Group; round out the top 20 in the 2014 Top 50 People in Retail list.

The next wave

Recognising the influx of international retailers to the Australian market and their impact on industry practice and consumer trends, executives driving the local operations of five global fashion brands are included in this year’s rankings.

The highest ranked executives of the new wave of global fashion brands are Hilton Seskin and Sonia Bettega of British retailer, Topshop/ Topman, at 27.

Close behind are Hans Andersson of H&M, at 29; Shoichi Miyasaka, of Japanese chain, Uniqlo, at 30; and Iñigo de Llano, of the Spanish fast fashion chain, Zara (Inditex Australia) at 34.

Other executives from overseas owned retailers in the Top 50 are Jooman Park of eBay at 23; Andrew Gregory of McDonald’s at 24; Tony King, head of Apple Australia, at 28; David Hood, Ikea CEO, at 35; and Jason Murray and Graham Dean of Harris Scarfe at 46.

The 2014 Top 50 People in Retail list also includes three British retail executives recruited to breathe life into flagging retail chains.

Matt Tyson debuts at 31 on the 2014 list as MD of Woolworths’ problem child, Masters, while Alastair McGeorge, former

MD of New Look, is also a new entrant at 37 as MD of another underperformer in Big W. Stuart Machin, who came in at number one in 2011 with Ian McLeod, is now listed at 40 as he tries to revive the fortunes of the Target discount department store chain.


Peter Johnson of multi-brand Cotton On Group, which is now expanding overseas, occupies the 21st position in this year’s list, ahead of Guy Russo, the former McDonald’s executive who as MD of Kmart is driving its low price strategy, at 22; and Warren Wilmot, CEO of the 7-Eleven convenience franchise and newly acquired Starbucks coffee chain at 25.

Retail executives of other franchise chains in the rankings are Don Meij of Domino’s, at 36; Michael Ford, of The  Good Guys, at 39; Tony Alford, Retail Food Group, 44; and Terry and Anthony White of Terry White Chemists, at 48.

Rounding out the top 50 are Brett Blundy of BB Retail Capital, ranked 32; Zac and Morrie Fraid of Spotlight/Anaconda, at 38; Fred Harrison of Ritchies IGA, at 42; debutant to the list, Nick Aboud of Dick Smith, at 43; Ian Robinson of Beacon Lighting and president of the Large Format Retail Association at 45; and John Charlton of Spendless Shoes at 50.

Apart from Ruslan Kogan, online retailers included in the 2014 Top 50 People in Retail list are Paul Reining who along with brothers, Gabby and Hezi Leibovich, run Catch Group at 26; and Michael Rosenbaum of Deals Direct (Mnemon Ltd) at 41.

Light on ladies

After Katie Page and Sonia Bettega, the next highest ranked woman on the 2014 Top 50 People in Retail list is Naomi Milgrom
of Sussan Group at 33, which is something of an indictment on the retail industry, especially when the only other woman on the list is Debra Singh, a former Woolworths executive now at Fantastic Furniture, who is ranked at 49 with Stephen Heath.

Missing from the 2013 rankings are Julie Coates, former Big W MD; Melinda Smith, previously of Masters; Catriona Noble, who has now left McDonald’s; Lorna Jane Clarkson of Lorna Jane; and Asos’ Sally-Anne Newson, who has headed back to Asos in the UK.

This article first appeared in Inside Retail Magazine’s October/November 2014 issue. To subscribe, click here


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