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 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