Jan 14, 2020
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Woolworth's Holdings CEO to exit, replaced by Levi's exec

Jan 14, 2020

Ongoing underperformance at its Australian operations has led to the exit from his group post of Woolworths Holdings’ CEO Ian Moir, the South African company replacing him with an executive from Levi Strauss.

David Jones

Moir, who’s staying with the company but stepping down from the board, has been CEO of the holding company for nine years and also, more recently, acting CEO of luxe Australian department stores chain David Jones, a post he’ll retain.

The company bought David Jones for A$2.1 billion in 2014 but it has been a problem buy and an ongoing turnaround process has seen David Jones reporting over A$0.5 billion in losses. 

Roy Bagattini, a South African, who’s been American regional president for denim giant Levi Strauss & Company, will replace him as group CEO on February 17. But the company stressed that there will be an orderly transition and some continuity as Moir works with him while continuing to run David Jones.

The under-performance at David Jones had been a thorn in Moir’s side for some years and the unit had seen several CEOs come and go before he took up direct control. Its weakness had led some shareholders to call for Moir’s replacement and the chain had been seen very much as his project.

On its acquisition, he’d said it would add new sales and profits to the parent firm’s balance sheet. But the weak Australian retail scene and particular weakness at the country’s department stores has meant it’s been a drain on profits instead. As well as its headline losses, it booked impairments of A$4.4 billion for the 2019 financial year, after a A$712m write-down in 2018.

Last summer, Moir said the last two years were the worst of his working life.

So what does the new group CEO bring? As mentioned, Bagattini is South African and worked in his native country earlier in his career. Although more recently focused on the American market, he was Levi’s President: Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa from 2013 to 2016. He previously worked in the drinks industry for Carlsberg Group and SABMiller. He’s known as a turnaround specialist as well as having led mergers and acquisitions.

Woolworths Holdings chairman, Hubert Brody, said: “Roy has extensive operational, management and turnaround experience in global consumer and retail markets, which will prove invaluable as we continue to navigate the structural changes taking place in the retail sector and the challenges particular to our group.”

Woolworths Holdings owns the Woolworths chain in South Africa, as well as Australia’s David Jones and Country Road and gets 55% of its operating profits from fashion, beauty and home products.

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