So now we finally know who the new CEO of Debenhams is. Ian Cheshire is right to have been picky about the appointment and Sergio Bucher is not an obvious candidate. His background is digital (Amazon) and brands (Puma and Nike), although Cortefiel and Inditex feature early on in his CV. There were lots of candidates with mainstream retail experience who clearly would have been “safer” options.
Debenhams is certainly not one of the industry’s most fashionable retail brands, literally and metaphorically. Nevertheless, it is a big player (£2.9bn sales) and has defended its market shares remarkably well. While performance may have been unexciting, it needs to be judged in context. Its peer group (M&S, Next, BHS, HoF etc) has not enjoyed plain sailing either. The market itself has been depressed, burdened by the growing weight of overcapacity. So what will Sergio inherit?
Debs has a great beauty business which continues to trade very strongly, built around strong brands, mix and supplier relationships. It is the clothing side where the real challenges lie, particularly with womenswear. Designers was a great idea, is now in its mid-twenties, and needs re-invention. The value proposition needs re-engineering. Reducing some discount days is fine as far it goes, but does it change fundamental perceptions and expectations?
This appointment will be just as critical for Ian Cheshire as it is for Sergio Bacher. This is a retail market unlike any I have ever see. The rear view mirror has become almost irrelevant although life being what it is, most leadership teams are using it as their main navigation tool. Sergio is clearly an unconventional choice but he will bring a totally different perspective to the business, and one likely to question and challenge everything. This exactly what Debs needs – reinvention to carve out its own identity and set its own agenda.
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