Bernie Brookes has stepped down as the chief executive officer and managing director of Myer after close to nine years in the top job.
In a major shakeup of the retailer’s senior management, Brookes will be replaced by current chief information and supply chain officer Richard Umbers, effective immediately, although Brookes will help with the transition over the next two months.
Also leaving Myer is chief financial officer Mark Ashby, who is heading for an overseas position. A decision about his replacement has not yet been made.
Chief merchandise and marketing officer Daniel Bracken will also take on the role of deputy chief executive officer.
Myer told the Australian Securities Exchange this morning Umbers will lead a “significant program of change and reinvigoration to ensure Myer is well-placed to meet the expectations of its current and target customers, and importantly to be able to adapt faster as retail evolves”.
Myer is due to release its interim results on March 19. In October, the retailer reported a 1.4% drop in gross operating profit for the 2013-14 financial year, to $1.286 billion, off sales of $3.143 billion.
It was the fourth year running that Myer’s gross operating profit had fallen and the “challenging” year was in part blamed on a 3.3% increase in cost of doing business.
Myer chairman Paul McClintock said in a statement Brookes “guided the business through an eventful period, from a turnaround under private ownership to a public listing, and through a period of sustained weakness in consumer sentiment, competitive disruption and structural change” since joining Myer in 2006.
“Myer has been well-served by having a retailer of Bernie’s calibre during the period,” McClintock said.
McClintock said a “strategic review” of Myer’s business has been underway for some time and “the board and management team have agreed that the transformation work has reached a pivotal point and it is appropriate for a new CEO to be given the opportunity to own, lead and drive the transformation program over the coming years”.
“It has become clear that to thrive in a modern retail environment, Myer must adapt more quickly and be closer to its customers,” McClintock said.
“The addition of highly experienced executives last year has brought a broad range of perspectives to the strategic review. Based on this work it has become evident that a transformation project of the scale required to achieve the board’s vision will take a number of years to complete.”
Umbers joined Myer in June 2014, having previously worked for Australia Post, and McClintock said he has already “demonstrated that he is a contemporary retailer with the clear ability to reshape Myer in a new retail landscape”.
“[Umbers] has broad international experience across the retail sector and importantly, success in leading business transformation,” McClintock said.
Brookes said in the same statement “the time is now right for me to pass on the reins to the next leader to take the business forward” and he believes Myer “has a strong future ahead of it”.
But Brookes’ stepping down comes less than six months after he told SmartCompany he wasn’t going anywhere and planned to stay with Myer for “a few more years”.
“Over the next couple of years there is a ton more to do,” Brookes said in September.
“There’s lots of activity and there’s lots of competitors, there’s a lot more money to spend, it’s an exciting time.”
At the time, the former Woolworths executive said he was focused on investing in Myer’s digital future.
“We’ve invested about $60-70 million in establishing our online website, our online presence,” he said.
“From our point of view we’ve got an opportunity while we’re under attack from overseas competitors, an opportunity while David Jones are renewing themselves, to take advantage of that situation and go very strong over the next 12 months and we now have the funds to do that.”
“There’s no good sitting there and saying we’re not going to do that because we don’t know what the future holds … You’ve got to try to think about where the customer is going to be rather then where they are today.”