- Managing Me
- Big Ideas
- Managing People
John Pollaers, the new CEO at the clothing and footwear wholesaler Pacific Brands, told LeadingCompany today about his plans to make designers the “heroes” of the brands in his company's stable.
Many of these brands are iconic – Bonds, Berlie, Holeproof, Hard Yakka, King Gee and Sheridan sheets.
Pollaers talked with long-suffering shareholders at today’s annual general meeting about his impressions of his “exciting first 50 days” as CEO of Pacific Brands. “Most of our well-known and respected brands are in better shape than I expected,” Pollaers told shareholders.
Speaking after the meeting to LeadingCompany, Pollaers elaborated on the points he made in his presentation to shareholders about his plans to revive the company.
The current state of play
Pollaers has no good financial news to revive the spirits of shareholders, who’ve been driven close to despair by the $450.7 million loss announced in the full-year financial results in August. Year to date, group sales are down.
Pollaers’ spirits, however, are high and at the meeting he wanted to pass on some of this fervour to shareholders. “Short term, the trading environment remains challenging,” Pollaers said. “But now I want to share with you why I took on the role as your CEO and why I am optimistic about the future.”
Pollaers has visited every major business site in Australia, China, Hong Kong and Indonesia. He has examined the supply chain and caught up with suppliers.
“I have completed a thorough review of each business with management taking me through the current state of play, their business plans, and discussing the opportunities in front of them – and I am pleased to say there are a great many opportunities available to the company, and of course there are some challenges,” Pollaers said.
From beer to bras
Pollaers was seen by some as a controversial appointment, coming as he does from outside the clothing and footwear sector. His predecessor, Sue Morphett, had 16 years with Pacific Brand, including the last five years in the top job.
Pollaers was, for a short time, the CEO of the beer maker, Foster’s Group, before Foster’s was bought out by SABMiller. His history is in the liquor industry. Prior to Fosters, he was with cocktail maker, Diageo.
Analysts, however, point to Pollaers’ “big brand” experience, working in difficult market conditions and experience with wholesale and retail.
Pollaers tells LeadingCompany his understanding of consumer products and of turnarounds is applicable to his current role. “I have more than 20 years in consumer products, and that means really working back from consumer through to retail. I have done seven or eight turnarounds over that time. Facing these circumstances is something I am very used to.”
1. Shift the focus to customers and consumers
> With the internal pain behind the company (staff sacked, brands jettisoned, writedowns taken), Pollaers will turn his attention to the market.
> Work with retailers on the presentation and position of Pacific Brands products in store will lead to some growth in the brands, he says.
> In promoting the brands, Pollaers will elevate the design, research and development capability of Pacific Brands. “The amount of technical innovation that happens is very impressive, and we need to invest more in communicating those things,” he tells LeadingCompany.
> Pollaers wants to work faster, too. “From here on in we will be more ambitious, tenacious and relentless in our execution.
2. More retail and online
Pollaers sees online sales and social media as a key plank in rebuilding customers’ enthusiasm for the brands. While this has traditionally been seen as problematic for wholesalers – putting them in competition with the retailers that are their customers – Pollaers says it is integral to modern wholesaling.
“The reality for any brand business globally now is that you need excellence in wholesale, direct retail and online sales capability. It is not a question of trading one off against the other, but rather ensuring we have amazing wholesale relationships that bring our brands to life; a direct retail presence that demonstrates the quality of our entire range; and online capability that keeps our brands relevant and accessible in Australia and internationally."
3. Expand overseas
China is no longer just a place for manufacturers to outsource to; it is also a big market opportunity.
Pollaers tells LeadingCompany that the first two planks of the strategy are the immediate focus, but overseas markets “will evolve”. He says: “The most significant focus is investing and getting retail and online strengthened because its takes longer to expand the sales and distribution networks into other markets.
“But Sheridan is a good example. It already has China and Hong Kong among its top five customers, and has significant presence in retail through concession stores and dedicated outlets. The question we can explore is, couldn’t we do that with other brands?”
The brands mentioned are Bonds, Sheridan and “workwear”.
4. Stay ahead in supply chain
There is not much more efficiency to be had in supply chain, says Pollaers, after his own first-hand examination of the systems at Pacific Brands.
The answer is a watching brief on supply chain management. “The days of massive cost reductions through outsourcing are over for most manufacturers, but there are always areas for continued improvement.”
5. “Breakthrough performance”
Last, but most critical to success is fostering the talents of the company's people, says Pollaers. He plans to foster a “breakthrough performance environment”, a leadership model that is promoted as a way to improve innovation. “Having had the opportunity to meet many people in our company, I can see that we have both great depth and diversity of talent. I have no doubt that this talent will thrive when we provide the right coaching, mentoring, feedback and end-to-end accountability.”
Pollaers saw a “strong desire to work better as a team” and plans to encourage greater ambition and performance. “We will build on the solid experience in the business and expand our risk taking and innovation capability. Commercial and sensible risk-taking needs to be encouraged and to become part of the culture at all levels.”