By Broede Carmody
Bernie Brookes has been snapped up by one of South Africa’s biggest retailers just two months after stepping down as the chief executive officer and managing director of Myer.
He was the head of Myer for close to nine years and was replaced by his supply chain officer Richard Umbers in a major company shake-up.
Brookes, who is one of Australia’s most recognised names in the retail industry, will join Edcon Holdings as chief executive in September.
The appointment will also see Brookes sit on the board of the company.
Edcon chairman Dwight Poler said in a statement the business was excited to bring onboard someone with more than 35 years of retail experience.
“We are very pleased to have Bernie joining the team,” Poler said.
“He has significant experience not only in apparel retailing in the Southern Hemisphere but also specifically department stores and emerging markets.”
Edcon is the largest non-food retailer in South Africa, operating a number of chains specialising in clothing, footwear, cosmetics, stationary, books and mobile phones.
More than 80% of the company’s sales are generated within South Africa, however the business also operates in other African countries such as Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Ghana and Botswana.
The group opened its first store in 1929, but now operates more than 1200 shopfronts across seven countries.
Brian Walker, chief executive of the Retail Doctor Group, told SmartCompany there are a lot of similarities between Australia and South Africa which will make Brookes’ role easier.
However that doesn’t mean the former Myer chief isn’t in for a challenge.
“They were losing significant money and he’s clearly there to lead a turnaround in their fortunes,” Walker says.
“He’s not just a CEO – he’s on the board which I think is interesting. He’s a considerably skilled retailer.
“I’d call him a very classic retailer, he’s led Myer through the IPO and through what has been globally a downturn for the department store sector. I think Myer were slow to get into the advent of technology, but that they weren’t alone.
“I think Bernie will bring a lot of skills and a lot of learning into the Edcon environment but that he has a formidable task on his hands.”
Walker says despite the obvious challenges and having to wrangle an entirely new market, he expects Brookes to perform well.
“He’s very good at rallying people to his cause and he knows the detail of retail,” he says.
“What he’s going to need, though, is deep pockets and the board, of which he is part of, to give him the remit to do what is necessary.
First published on Smart Company, 31 July 2015.