Myer boss Richard Umbers at the Myer spring 2017 fashion launch held in Coogee this week. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
In business, as in life, it’s good to have a Robin to your Batman, a Goose to your Maverick. In the case of Myer, chief executive Richard Umbers has now assembled the Flying V.
The executive level shake-up was brought on after the sudden departure of the retailer’s deputy chief executive and Mr Umbers’ key lieutenant Daniel Bracken, the retail wunderkind from Burberry who spearheaded the introduction of stand-alone Topshop boutiques in-store, an experiment that failed when the local arm of the high-street fashion chain went into voluntary administration earlier this year.
Mr Bracken left Myer after only two years, 20 months into a five-year overhaul of the company, and will not be replaced. His exit last month was announced during the latest reporting period where the department store recorded dismal results.
“Fortunately now I’ve got quite a cohesive senior team,” Mr Umbers told Fairfax Media at the department store’s spring 2017 collections launch held in Sydney this week.
“When I first took on the role there were quite a number of different changes … Daniel and I joined at a very similar time, so it made sense for us to work as the two of us.
“Since then the team has expanded anyway and luckily I’ve now got the strength of the team at a senior level that it’s possible to carry on and create the leadership and direction in the business without it just coming down to one or two people. We’ve found something that is more robust.”
Last month Mr Umbers promoted long-serving head of fashion Karen Brewster to his senior management team. Ms Brewster, who has been with Myer for more than two decades, is now general manager of product merchandising and responsible for every product that is available to buy in-store.
“A large proportion of our staff are women, a huge proportion of our customer base are women, women know women, so to have more senior team members being female is obviously a good start,” Umbers said.
For some time the Australian retail market has resembled someone trying to pull on a pair of tights that are a size too small. Getting them tracking upwards takes a lot of effort and creative maneuvering. Conditions are tough for businesses and shoppers with stagnant wage growth and the rising cost of living.
Mr Umbers is now opting for alchemy instead of taking the easy route and discounting heavily to entice customers in-store.
The two champagne and canape infused fashion shows to show off the brand’s high-end and streetwear labels were staged in South Coogee and Bronte this week and were given the CEO tick of approval.
“It’s no longer OK just to display something and for it to be inert,” Mr Umbers said of Myer’s wares. “It’s got to have chemistry built into it.”
The extravagant marketing exercises fronted by popular ambassador Jennifer Hawkins followed the announcement that Myer would sponsor Katy Perry’s Australian tour next year.
More than 90,000 people applied to win tickets to the shows via Myer’s special membership program, which swelled in sign-ups during the promotion.