The Distillery: Zahra zips

Paul Zahra's decision to leave David Jones has jotters scratching their heads.

The shock departure of David Jones boss Paul Zahra has commentators in a spin, but none are subscribing to any wild theories. It is simply a case of someone failing to find joy in their job, according to one, while another puts it down to the never-ending challenges in the new retail world.

Elsewhere, one scribe peers in for a closer look at the ructions between suppliers and customers in the gas sector, as another calls for a cooling of investor expectation surrounding the Warrnambool Cheese and Butter takeover.

First to retail, The Australian’s John Durie believes Zahra has simply had enough and the company was willing to risk short-term pain in order to move on.

“Yesterday was all about wanting to get the transition process started, even if creates an impression of continuing chaos.”

The Australian Financial Review’s Chanticleer columnist, Tony Boyd, puts Zahra’s exit down to the “relentless pressure” of running a company facing the tides of change.

“The chief executive of David Jones could no longer handle the heat as he tried to guide the department store through the storm of structural change caused by the internet. This digital onslaught was exacerbated by the strong Australian dollar.”

Boyd adds that the exit allows the retailer “to open the door to a complete review of the company’s strategy.”

The Australian’s Glenda Korporaal, meanwhile, explains why the move comes as a shock. Just five weeks ago Zahra gave every indication in an interview that his tenure had a while to run and there had been signs of traction in the business. As such, his exit leaves a few question marks.

“Who knows what it was that finally led to Zahra's decision to announce he would be stepping down after only three-and-a-half years in the job. Maybe the job was proving a lot tougher than he thought. Maybe he felt the hoped-for turnaround in retail sales was not happening. Maybe he just felt it would be a long time before he would be having fun.”

The surprise decision has led to rumours it related to damaged workplace relationships, which Fairfax’s Elizabeth Knight says are unfounded and unlikely to be true. The bigger question may be, who spread such gossip?

“The announcement of Paul Zahra's intended departure from the top job at David Jones was accompanied by a swirl of unsubstantiated rumours about internal tensions involving group executive for merchandise Donna Player… In the bitchy and incestuous world of fashion the (fictional) story is said to have been concocted by a high-profile supplier who was once exclusively distributed by David Jones but now also sells in Myer.”

Rumours are also swirling around takeover target Warrnambool Cheese and Butter, with new bids expected to be imminent. The share price action, however, indicates some investors are getting ahead of themselves, according to The Australian’s Durie.

“The frenzied price action in dairy stocks (yesterday) morning was way over the top on expectations of a bidding war sooner rather than later. Never say never but the reserve is more likely given both Murray Goulburn and Saputo need to wait for regulatory approval.”

Elsewhere, the AFR’s Matthew Stevens enters into the gas debate as prices drive a wedge between suppliers and their customers. What is it that has the Australian Industry Group’s Innes Willox riled up?

In politics and the economy, Fairfax’s Adele Ferguson welcomes the inquiry into the Australian Securities and Investments Commission even if it should have been done years ago, while her colleague Michael Pascoe wonders if Treasurer Joe Hockey will follow the example of his predecessor and raid the coffers of the RBA.

Finally, the AFR’s Karen Maley discusses the risks beneath the surface in the US economy as colleague John Kehoe explains the one big loser, among the many, from the Washington shutdown fiasco.

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