Woolies boss Brad Banducci’s retirement wasn’t expedited, says chair

By Jessica Yun
Updated

Woolworths boss Brad Banducci is stepping down after eight years as head of Australia’s biggest supermarket chain in a shock move that chairman Scott Perkins said is unrelated to increasing pressure over the sector’s alleged price gouging and unfair dealings with suppliers and farmers.

Banducci will retire in September this year and be replaced by Amanda Bardwell, who currently leads the company’s digital unit, WooliesX, which includes its fast-growing online shop.

Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci has announced his retirement.
Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci has announced his retirement.Credit: Louie Douvis

The announcement comes days after Banducci walked out of a Four Corners interview with ABC reporter Angus Grigg while being questioned about market concentration in the supermarket sector. He later returned to finish the interview.

Perkins said the search for a new chief executive had been underway since the middle of last year and insisted that the timing of Banducci’s retirement was unrelated to the heightened scrutiny of Australia’s supermarket chains in recent months amid concerns about high inflation, the cost of living and rising grocery prices.

“I can be absolutely emphatic on that point … There was no change to the timetable, no expedition at all,” he told reporters in a briefing on Wednesday morning.

Banducci said the board had offered him flexibility on timing, and he had “briefly considered” deferring his retirement given recent events.

“It occurred to me to delay, but actually, that wouldn’t have been authentic in the light of the context of what we were doing, and the context of the team that we have. It was an executive call from all of us, and in particular with me involved, to make the announcement today.”

Banducci said it had been a privilege to be part of Woolworths, and Bardwell had been appointed to replace him following an extensive global search.

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“We have a wonderfully talented and passionate team at Woolworths Group, as personified in Amanda Bardwell, and I look forward to working with Amanda and our team over the next few months as we set ourselves up for the next chapter.”

‘It occurred to me to delay, but actually, that wouldn’t have been authentic in the light of the context of what we were doing.’

Woolies CEO Brad Banducci

Banducci, who was born in South Africa, came to Australia in 1989 and spent 14 years at the Boston Consulting Group before joining Woolworths in October 2011 to run its liquor business, which included the Dan Murphy’s and BWS bottle shops. He then led Woolworths’ food and supermarket division for nine years, and was appointed chief executive in February 2016.

Banducci’s retirement and Bardwell’s appointment were announced just before the release of Woolworths’ half-year results.

The supermarket giant’s group sales rose 4.4 per cent to $34.6 billion in the six months to December 31, boosted by a 17.8 per cent lift in online sales. Operating earnings rose 5.3 per cent to $3.1 billion, and profit excluding significant items increased 2.5 per cent to $929 million.

However, $1.7 billion in charges for goodwill writedowns on the company’s New Zealand food business and the fact Woolworths no longer has a controlling influence over Endeavour pushed its bottom line into the red, to a net loss of $781 million.

The company will pay an interim dividend of 47 cents a share, fully franked, which is up 1 cent from the prior-year half.

Investors appeared unimpressed with the supermarket giant’s news this morning, sending its share price down by more than 6 per cent.

Bardwell will take on the top job as Woolworths faces a series of inquiries into supermarket pricing practices, including from the ACCC, a review of the food and grocery code of conduct, and a Senate inquiry into supermarket pricing that is due to begin in the coming weeks.

She has spent more than two decades at Woolworths, joining the business in 2001 as a research and development business manager and in 2004 was promoted to head of marketing for Woolworths’ supermarkets, liquor and petrol businesses. She became managing director of WooliesX in mid-2017.

WooliesX combines Woolworths’ digital, e-commerce, data and customer loyalty divisions, and looks after initiatives such as direct-to-boot and same-day pick-up and delivery orders. It has been a key growth engine for the supermarket giant, responsible for two thirds of earnings from its food business. Online shopping sales have increased 21.3 per cent and average weekly traffic has lifted 20.5 per cent.

Elsewhere in the Woolworths group, Big W has performed poorly as Australians continue to be cautious with their budgets and trade down. The discount department store’s sales slid 4.1 per cent and earnings slumped 60 per cent in the latest half.

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Source: Thanks smh.com