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Woolies chairman answers CEO, Masters questions

Woolworths 3Woolworths recently installed chairman, Gordon Cairns, has admitted uncertainty surrounding the struggling retailer’s leadership is hurting its share price.

But despite this, Woolworths will not rush its search for a new chief executive, Cairns told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting in Sydney on Thursday.

Several shareholders quizzed the board about how the search for Grant O’Brien’s replacement was going, with one concerned shareholder pointing out that the indecision was weighing on Woolworths’ share price.

“Getting the right person is more important than getting someone tomorrow,” Cairns replied. “We make no apologises for the fact we will be thoughtful and careful about this. We are fully cognisant as a board that uncertainty impacts on the share price and we are doing everything we can to dissipate that uncertainty.”

Earlier, he opened the AGM by apologising for the group’s 12.5 per cent full year profit fall to $2.15 billion. “Can I start by acknowledging your disappointment and ours in where we find ourselves,” Cairns told shareholders on Thursday. The results for 2015 were frankly unacceptable and the disappointing share price performance has reflected this.”

Shareholders were also told that the board will take a ‘rational view’ of the Woolworths portfolio with regard to shareholders questions pertaining to the selling of Masters and Big W. “The board will take a fact-based, data driver approach to portfolio management and you can be assured we will act in the best interests of shareholders to maximise the value of the company,” said Cairns.

Woolworths has reaffirmed its first half profit guidance of $900 million to $1 billion, a 35 per cent fall compared to the same time a year ago.

Cairns also repeated warnings that the company’s heavy investment into lowering food and grocery prices will hurt its profit margins.

Shares in Woolworths were down 21 cents, 0.86 per cent, to $24.17 at 1425 AEDT.

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