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Is SA retail running out of local senior executive talent?

Jean-Christophe Garbino's naming as Michael Mark's successor as Truworths' CE raises the question: Is SA retail running out of local senior executive talent?
Is SA retail running out of local senior executive talent?
© Helder Almeida - Fotolia.com

With Garbino set to become the fifth foreign CE heading an SA retailer, it appears to be, at least at first glance.

Garbino, who comes from France, joins Liverpool-born Richard Brasher at Pick n Pay; German Jürgen Schreiber at Edcon; and the Scottish-born trio of David Kneale at Clicks Group, Doug Murray at The Foschini Group (TFG) and Ian Moir (now an Australian citizen) at Woolworths.

International retail experience

The foreign retail CE line-up does not point to a dearth of SA talent, says Ricco Friedrich of Sanlam Investment Management. What it does indicate is a need for CEs with experience in international retail, he says.

There is another reason for Garbino's selection, says independent retail analyst Syd Vianello. "Truworths needs new blood," he says. "Mark made it clear his successor would have to do things totally differently."

Garbino, CE of French fashion retailer Kiabi since 2007, could be what Truworths needs to reverse its flagging fortunes. Whatever strategy he follows, a very different Truworths is likely to emerge.

As different to Truworths as it could be, Kiabi is an aggressive cash-only discounter with stores typically located outside major cities. Kiabi also relies heavily on its online channel.

Sasfin analyst Alec Abraham believes one of Garbino's key strategies could be aggressive expansion of Identity, Truworths' value fashion chain. Identity generates only 15% of group sales but with its focus on the mid-income segment it could give Truworths the sales growth it needs, says Abraham.

Kneale just clicked

Truworths shareholders will be hoping Garbino can emulate the success of other foreign CEs, not least Kneale, Clicks Group CE since January 2006.

"Clicks needed a CE with experience managing a business of its nature," says Christopher Gilmour of Absa Investment Management. "It had a big management problem and its management information systems had collapsed."

Kneale brought to bear experience at UK health and beauty retailer Boots, where he had served as chief commercial officer and international retail MD. Under Kneale, Clicks' headline EPS have increased more than fourfold.

Operation turnaround

At Woolworths, Moir has also achieved wonders since becoming its CE in November 2010. But he was no stranger to the group. From 1998 he had served as CE of Country Road, Woolworths' Australian operation, which he rescued from the brink of disaster.

Murray was also no stranger to TFG or SA when he became its CE in January 2008.

"I do not regard myself as a foreigner," says Murray, who came to SA in 1981 after qualifying as a CA in his home town, Edinburgh. After a stint with Aitken & Carter, now KPMG, he joined TFG in 1985.

At Pick n Pay, Brasher was very much a newcomer when he became CE in February 2013. Tasked with restoring the ailing retailer's market position, Brasher brought with him 26 years of experience at Tesco UK, the last 12 months as CE.

Brasher faced a daunting task. Though there are solid signs Pick n Pay has turned the corner, he concedes that hard work still lies ahead.

A far more daunting task faces Schreiber, CE since April 2011 of debt-burdened Edcon, whose market share and profitability have plunged since 2006. Fashion retail also represented a new challenge for Schreiber, whose previous experience was slanted heavily towards the health and beauty retail sector.

"Schreiber is fighting an uphill battle," says Vianello. "The jury is out on his strategy of bringing in upmarket foreign brands."

Even the best retail strategy is unlikely to be enough. The solution to Edcon's woes, says Vianello, lies in its recapitalisation through the conversion of debt into equity.

Source: Financial Mail



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