Zahra survives to right the wrongs

MOVING into the top seat at a major retailer like David Jones was never going to be easy, but Paul Zahra conceivably faced a few more challenges than usual when he was thrust into the hot seat less than two years ago.

MOVING into the top seat at a major retailer like David Jones was never going to be easy, but Paul Zahra conceivably faced a few more challenges than usual when he was thrust into the hot seat less than two years ago.

While the scandal over the resignation of his predecessor, Mark McInnes, played out in a storm of publicity, Zahra was unwittingly heading into the toughest retail environment in decades with a business he claims was lacking on several fronts: most crucially an online strategy.

This view of the business's shortcomings were shared in the market when the profit downgrades started and it created a massive feud last year with McInnes, over his legacy.

"Whilst I was there from 2003 to 2010, the company delivered seven years of profit and dividend growth and we lived through two downturns and one of those downturns was an all-out crisis, and even in 2008 and 2009 the company still delivered profit and dividend growth and had no aged inventory," Mr McInnes has said.

Mr Zahra's stocks reached their nadir on Tuesday with speculation that his tenure would not survive the board meeting that day, forcing David Jones chairman Robert Savage to issue a statement publicly supporting his CEO.

With yesterday's strategy update, Mr Zahra finally got the blueprint he wanted to turn the business around, including a boost to customer service and a cutting edge omnichannel strategy designed to service these customers whichever way they choose to interact with the department store.

"Today's about drawing a line in the sand, righting the wrongs of the past and moving forward," Mr Zahra said.

As for the brutal transition, he said: "It has actually only strengthened our organisation and we know we will come out of this better and much stronger and leverage the upside when it does come."

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