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Woolworths in leadership limbo

Woolworthssign_2Is there something seriously wrong at Woolworths?

Let’s have a look at recent times: Ralph Waters resigns as chairman after the announcement of shocking results and he is replaced by Gordon Cairns.

At about the same time Grant O’Brien, MD and CEO, announces his resignation. But he doesn’t leave. He stays on while a replacement is found. And he takes a pay cut of $1.5 million – hardly motivating.

Meanwhile Alistair McGeorge, CEO of Big W, resigns amid some controversy. Penny Winn is appointed caretaker while a replacement is being found.

How has this state of affairs been allowed to continue?

Let’s look at Woolworths first: a new chairman, a former MD/CEO still in the job after resigning in mid-June and having taken a pay cut.

What can this be doing to morale at Woolworths, especially among the senior executives? How long does it take to find a replacement for O’Brien?

Now Big W: McGeorge resigns more than a month ago and Penny Winn is minding the shop.

Where is David Guise, director of human resources for Woolworths? Where is his succession plan? How long are he and Gordon Cairns going to allow two of the biggest brands to limp along in leadership limbo?

This is not the stuff of multi-million dollar public companies!

The shareholders have every right to be ropeable.

I was slammed a month or two ago when I suggested that Wesfarmers may be eyeing Woolworths. ASIC would never allow it and this is probably true – at the present time anyway. But it is inconceivable that Woolworths is not on the radar for takeover.

To aggravate matters they have abandoned the ‘Cheap Cheap’ advertising campaign. How did Tony Phillips, chief of marketing, ever allow this campaign to see the light of day? One doesn’t need to be an expert in marketing to figure out that Woolworths cannot compete on price with the likes of Aldi. Its USP is value, quality, and service.

Add to this conundrum the imminent arrival of Lidl.

Would you buy WOW now?

Stuart Bennie is a retail consultant at Impact Retailing and can be contacted at or 0414 631 702.

This article first appeared on Inside Retail

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