The Deal’s CEO of the year, Peter Bir­tles, is not a house­hold name, but his ex­pan­sion of Su­per Re­tail into a for­mi­da­ble force in the leisure goods busi­ness may change that

The Australian - The Deal - - Cover Story - Story Glenda Kor­po­raal | Pho­tog­ra­phy Ed­die Sa­farik

The move by Peter Bir­tles’ com­pany, Su­percheap Auto, to spend $610 mil­lion buy­ing sport­ing goods re­tailer Rebel three years ago did not im­press all share­hold­ers. “It was a big bite and the mar­ket was not en­tirely sup­port­ive at the time,” re­calls Bir­tles, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the group now known as Su­per Re­tail.

“We saw the share price take a bit of a dive and we strug­gled to be able to place all the shares in our rights is­sue at $5.34. We had to work very hard to get them all the way. But now our shares are above $12 and all the share­hold­ers who sup­ported the deal are very happy.”

At first glance, it is very easy to un­der­es­ti­mate Bir­tles, the low-key chief of one of Aus­tralia’s fastest-grow­ing re­tail op­er­a­tions, a $2 bil­lion em­pire with busi­nesses in­clud­ing Su­percheap Auto, Rebel Sport, Amart All Sports, Ray’s Out­doors, Gold­cross Cy­cles and out­door store BCF (Boat­ing, Camp­ing and Fish­ing).

From mod­est premises be­side a high­way an hour north of Bris­bane, the for­mer ac­coun­tant from the English Mid­lands is qui­etly work­ing on his goal to ex­pand his com­pany’s op­er­a­tions in the leisure busi­ness — and to be­come one of the top­five re­tail­ers in Aus­tralia by turnover.

The Rebel takeover, still a work in progress ac­cord­ing to Bir­tles, gave the com­pany a third ma­jor in­come stream in ad­di­tion to car parts and leisure gear. It was also one of the fac­tors that has helped drive his com­pany’s shares up and de­liver

an im­pres­sive profit track record.

Like Coles’ chief ex­ec­u­tive, Scots­man Ian McLeod, Bir­tles is bring­ing re­tail skills honed in the highly com­pet­i­tive Bri­tish mar­ket to Aus­tralia with im­pres­sive re­sults. Su­per Re­tail’s mar­ket cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion (more than $2.4 bil­lion at the end of last month), is al­ready larger than JB Hi-Fi ($1.9 bil­lion), Myer ($1.6 bil­lion) and David Jones ($1.5 bil­lion), yet the com­pany is far from a house­hold name.

A for­mer ex­ec­u­tive with Bri­tish phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals com­pany Boots, Bir­tles joined the Queens­land-based com­pany as chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer in 2001 with a view to work­ing to­wards its

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