Richard Umbers was catapulted into the top retail job in Australia yesterday with his appointment as chief executive of Myer. Umbers was Myer’s chief information officer and supply chain officer and his appointment as chief executive was effective immediately.
Umbers is not well known outsider retail circles, so here’s SmartCompany’s list of eight things you didn’t know about Myer’s new chief executive.
1. He’s a family man, cyclist and footy fan
Umbers is 48 years old and lives in Melbourne with his wife and three children. He is a keen cyclist and barracks for AFL team Hawthorn.
2. He’s only got eight months’ experience in department stores
Myer is describing Umbers as “a retailer to the core” but his only experience in department stores is the eight months he has spent with Myer.
Brian Walker, chief executive of the Retail Doctor Group, told SmartCompany Umbers’ experience at Myer so far has been largely about information technology and inventory management, “the back end of the business”.
“He understands the importance of it and understands the need for speed,” Walker says.
David Gordon, retail analyst and partner at Lowe Lippmann, says Umbers lack of prior department store experience makes him very similar to outgoing Myer chief executive Bernie Brookes.
“He is a younger, more energised version of Bernie,” Gordon says. “That is not such a bad thing by the way. The real test for him will be the dynamics around apparel and fashion.”
3. He’s ex-Army
Umbers was an officer in the British Army and graduated from famed military college Sandhurst. He was in the engineering corps.
4. He used to work for Aldi
From 1993 to 2002 Umbers worked for Aldi in the UK and Ireland in various roles, including operations, supply chain, finance, transformation programs and property.
5. He’s spent time in New Zealand
After Aldi, Umbers was the managing director of national supermarket chain Progressive Enterprises in New Zealand. The chain was then bought by Woolworths.
Gordon worked for Umbers at Progressive, which he describes as “a very impressive organisation”.
“Before Woolies bought Progressive it was a very flexible, commercial and robust organisation,” Gordon says.
“Richard was very innovative in his thinking, a very strong people leader and really understood the relationship between product and customer.”
6. He’s worked for Woolies
From 2006 to 2010, Umbers worked for Woolworths Australia where his roles included buying and marketing and customer engagement through its loyalty program.
“He would have acquired a working knowledge of the Australian consumer from his four years in Sydney,” Gordon says.
7. He’s worked for Australia Post
Prior to joining Myer, Umbers was executive general manager for parcel and express services at Australia Post, and also held the position of chief executive for StarTrack. Umbers had responsibility for the enterprise wide eCommerce program, a major change initiative designed to position Australia Post to take advantage of the boom in online shopping.
“He has an interesting combination of a retail ‘make it happen guy’ and entrepreneur together with someone who has had eight years of working in two of the largest corporations in Australia, Australia Post and Woolworths,” Gordon says.
“He has an ability to understand corporate bureaucracy. So, on that level, he has the right experience to make things happen in the structures of Myer.”
8. Major changes are in the pipeline for Myer
Walker predicts Myer will change significantly and rapidly under Umbers’ stewardship.
“He gets that retail is undergoing this great structural revolution around consumer and digital technology and he’s inherited the legacy of a business that has to grapple with this faster than his competitors,” Walker says.
“I think we will see major changes occurring at Myer in the next 12 months. It’s always a business that has relied largely on its loyalty programs, expect that to accelerate. I’m not sure it will keep the same footprint in terms of number of stores in years to come.”
First published on Smart Company on March 3rd 2015