After only a short time in the top job, David Jones chief executive Iain Nairn resigned “for personal reasons” yesterday.
The department store announced John Dixon will replace Nairn as chief executive.
Nairn is a highly regarded retailer, formerly heading up Country Road, so his resignation after only 14 months as chief executive of David Jones has sent shock waves through the retail sector and left the rumour mill spinning.
His replacement, Dixon, joins David Jones direct from the United Kingdom where he was director of general merchandise at high street retailer Marks & Spencer.
He quit his role at M&S in July with speculation in the UK this was because of falling sales within his division.
Dixon had been an M&S “lifer” starting his career at the retailer in 1986 as a store management trainee.
He was appointed to the M&S board in 2009 as director of foods and at one stage was touted as a potential chief executive for the British retailer.
Dixon is credited with turning around M&S’s £5 billion ($11 billion) food business before his appointment as director of general merchandise including clothing and home.
He says he’s “very excited” to be taking on the chief executive role at David Jones.
“It’s a substantial business in its own right and lies at the heart of Australian society,” Dixon says.
He says it’s a “privilege” to be appointed and that he’s “hugely excited” by the possibilities for growth.
“I’m thoroughly looking forward to the challenge and my family and I are looking forward to living in Sydney,” he says.
Ian Moir, chief executive of David Jones’ parent company Woolworths South Africa said in an announcement to the Australian Securities Exchange that Dixon’s appointment reflects David Jones’ “long-term strategy” of taking the department store to the “next level”.
“John is a world class retailer who brings with him a powerful combination of international food and fashion expertise supported by large scale retail systems and management experience,” he says.
“We have known John for many years through our close relationship with M&S and know him to be an inspiring and resilient leader who has traded successfully through the most difficult and competitive of conditions in the UK.”
David Gordon, director at LZR Partners, says while Nairn’s departure is a shock there appears to have been some planning involved as Dixon had already been lined up as a replacement.
“The fact that Ian has been very successful both with Country Road and now with David Jones there must have been some pretty significant issues to cause this type of immediate departure,” he says.
“But saying that the fact they seem to have lined up his replacement already asks the question as to whether it wasn’t in fact being planned anyway.”
Gordon says Dixon’s appointment may represent a shift in strategy for David Jones.
“M&S is a completely different beast from David Jones,” he says.
“It services quality value for money products whereas David Jones is positioned much more upmarket. The fact that a component of David Jones strategy is to utilise the private label expertise of its South African parent makes you wonder whether this is all part of the journey to making David Jones more of a populist brand.”