THE MAKEOVER MAN
Glenda Korporaal meets the Scot who works for South Africans who wants to bring a touch of Italy to Australia’s iconic department store. Now that’s global.
Ian Moir arrives at his office at David Jones overlooking Sydney’s Hyde Park wearing an open-neck shirt, jeans and a designer stubble. His blond wood office desk is stacked with neat piles of papers, overlooked by black-and-white photos of fashionable women including Audrey Hepburn.
The chief executive of Woolworths, the South African retail chain, has just flown in from a family holiday in Greece – two weeks in a party of 10, including his four kids and their boyfriends. Now it’s back to work. He’ll be in Australia for three packed weeks and the pressure is on.
Last night, after a day speaking at a business lunch, attending meetings and dining with David Jones’ suppliers, the jetlag kicked in. At 2am, Moir is up and at it, dashing off emails to his team in South Africa.
Soon there will be engagements with Woolworths' other Australian operations – Country Road and Witchery.
“My biggest fear,” says Moir, “is that if I wasn’t doing this I would get bored.”
Not much chance of that. At 56, Moir oversees 500 stores employing more than 30,000 people in Australia, South Africa and 11 other countries in Africa. He lives on two continents in three cities, travelling between Woolworths' headquarters in Capetown, David Jones’ headquarters in Sydney and Country Road headquarters in Melbourne, where his family is located.
This month he celebrates the first anniversary of Woolworths' $2.3 billion takeover of David Jones. It’s a year, too, since Woolworths bought out Melbourne businessman Solly Lew to take complete control of Country Road. It’s a good moment for Moir, the man who saved Country Road when he was its CEO, with the news that David Jones is also finally turning around. Sales for the six months to the end of June moved into double-digit figures with more information to come next week when Woolworths releases its financial results from South Africa.
Moir has much resting on the revival of the chain: its image had been battered by changes at the top when Moir convinced his board to bid for it last year. He knew the local scene well, having been CEO of Country Road for 12 years before he was offered the Woolworths’ job in 2010. CEO Simon Susman was stepping back after 10 years to become chairman and handpicked Moir as his successor. For Moir the offer to run Woolworths, founded in 1931 and with strong links to British retailer Marks & Spencer, was one he couldn’t refuse, although it meant leaving his wife and four daughters in Australia.
“It’s not without its difficulties,” he admits. “It involves a lot of travel and a lot of movement for me and my family but we are managing it. Sometimes it can be a bit unsettling but we have been doing it for a long time now and it works.”
An accountant, who got into retail “by mistake” when he began working in the international wool business, Moir says retail is very much a global exercise. In South Africa, Woolworths (which has nothing to do with the Australian supermarket chain) sells a range of products from food, clothing, beauty products, homewares to financial services. Moir says the group’s upmarket customers in South Africa and Australia are part of a global world of consumers with similar aspirations, who are more connected than ever with international fashion trends.
“What people are expecting these days in terms of fashion – whether it is food or clothing – is very international, very global,” he says. “Everybody is looking at the same images – of silhouette and print and colour. Unless you have a trend in the store that a customer is seeing online, you are not going to be successful. The things that sell well in Melbourne will be the same things that sell well in Capetown.”
Proof comes in the strategy he has pursued: since taking over as CEO of Woolworths, Moir has introduced Country Road brands, including Trenery, Witchery and Mimco, to the South African stores. He is doing the same here, with an expansion of Country Road brands into David Jones, and plans to bring in some brands from South Africa as well as to develop private label David Jones products to sell in both countries.
Then there’s online. He is a big fan of Selfridges department stores in Britain and admires how the John Lewis chain has dramatically lifted online sales to more than 30 per cent of its business. In the past year, David Jones has expanded online sales from one per cent to three per cent of turnover and Moir wants to get to 10 per cent in the next few years. THE straight-talking Moir, who comes from Dunfermline, near Edinburgh, likes to play down his accounting background.
“You spend four years getting your accounting qualifications and the next 30 years denying it,” he jokes. The retail business, he argues, is not complicated. “Retail is not brain surgery. It’s simple stuff. Simple disciplines.”
The disciplines require a forensic focus on detail, particularly about the customer: the goal is to get more and more information on customers, the more information the better. When Moir and his team took over David Jones they were horrified by how little the company knew about its customers. The store used to have its own credit card but, under former CEO Mark McInnes, it pitched American Express cards to its