Woolworths CEO Grant O’Brien to step down as supermarket continues to struggle

O'BrienWoolworths chief executive Grant O’Brien is stepping down from the role as he admitted the recent performance of the retail giant has been “disappointing”.

O’Brien said it was “in the best interests of the company” to leave and let new leadership take the business forward.

His resignation, after 28 years with the company, the last four as CEO, comes just five weeks after he outlined a strategic plan to improve Woolworths’ fortunes.

It is the latest in a series of high profile departures at the supermarket, with chief marketing office Tony Phillips departing last month, with director of customer, brand and format Jess Gill following soon after.

In a further change announced by Woolworths this morning, director of group retail service Penny Winn has also flagged her intention to leave.

The announcement of O’Brien’s departure came as the company said the disappointing performance in its food and liquor division during April May has shown “no improvement” in May and June with fourth quarter sales to date down 0.7 per cent on Q4 last year.

It also confirmed that a total of 1200 jobs will go from support, supply chain and non-customer facing positions.

O’Brien said: “At the recent investor day we set our clear strategies to grow our business over the next three years and we have been working hard to execute these plans.

“However, the recent performance has been disappointing and below expectations. I believe it is in the best interests of the company for a new leadership to see these plans to fruition.”

Woolworths said O’Brien, who has led the business as CEO since October 2011, will remain at the helm while a replacement is found.

Chairman Ralph Waters said it will conduct a global search.

Woolworths has set out plans to save $500m across the 2015 and 2016 financial years with the money to be reinvested in delivering lower prices and improved service levels.l

In other departments, home improvement sales have climbed almost 20 per cent in the quarter to date, adjusted for Easter, while general merchandise has fallen 12 per cent, a result blamed by Woolworths on a new merchandising system with “created stock availability issues in our stores which in turn has impacted sales”.

Steve Jones


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