Supermarket giant Coles (ASX: COL) has appointed a woman to the top job for the first time in its 109-year history, with Leah Weckert to become CEO in two months following the retirement of Steven Cain.
Over the last 12 years, Weckert has held numerous senior roles at Coles, most recently working as chief executive of commercial and Coles Express – a job she took on after holding positions as a chief financial officer (CFO), strategy, people and culture director, and state general manager of all stores in Victoria.
Prior to working at Coles, she was a senior business analyst and associate principal at management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, as well as manager of global strategy and business development at Foster’s Group.
"I am very honoured to be appointed as the next CEO of Coles, which has been such an important part of Australian retailing for more than 100 years, and play a part in its ongoing contribution to the Australian community,” Weckert says.
“We have a transformational strategy that, through the hard work of our 130,000 team members, will deliver better experiences for customers and create value for shareholders.
“I am excited by the many opportunities and look forward to bringing them to fruition over the years ahead.”
Weckert has been a senior member of the executive leadership team since the demerger of Coles from the Wesfarmers Group five years ago. She holds degrees in engineering and science from Adelaide University and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard University.
Following the transition to Weckert as CEO, Cain will remain with Coles for an interim period to assist in an orderly transfer of executive responsibility.
“I would like to thank the Coles board, team and our many partners for their support, insights and resilience – particularly during COVID, bushfires and floods,” Cain says.
“I would like to congratulate Leah on becoming my successor and I wish Coles continued success, and know that the best is yet to come.”
Coles chairman James Graham says Leah has an outstanding track record of leadership and driving change inside Coles across key operating areas of the business.
“I am confident that Leah will maintain the focus of Coles in driving our strategy, building trust with all stakeholders and growing long term shareholder value,” Graham adds.
“On behalf of the board, I wish to recognise and thank Steven for his leadership of Coles since joining in 2018.
“Steven successfully steered the group through demerger; developed and pursued a strategy which has seen it become one of the most trusted brands in Australia; and built an outstanding management team with an elevated focus upon technology; sustainability; smarter selling; and, diversity and inclusion.”
Weckert’s appointment comes as Coles reported a 4 per cent lift in revenue to $20.8 million for the first half of the 2023 financial year, while net profit grew by 11.4 per cent to $616 million.
The growth primarily came from the group’s continuing operations, which were underpinned by its supermarket operations, where increased inflation helped boost sales.
Excluding the Express stores business –a division that was sold to Viva Energy (ASX: VEA) for $300 million last year– sales rose 3.9 per cent to $20.02 billion.
While Coles' supermarket business saw revenue increase 4.6 per cent to $18.8 billion, sales in its liquor division were down 2.4 per cent to $1.9 billion year-on-year.
Food inflation in the first half rose to 7.4 per cent, or 7.6 per cent excluding tobacco and fresh produce, which Coles attributed to an increase in farmgate milk prices and a surge in supplier prices for homecare and pantry.
Meanwhile, December-quarter food inflation hit 7.7 per cent up from 7.1 per cent in the first quarter.
“The good news is that supplier cost inflation is starting to ease in the third quarter, particularly in produce,” Cain says in an update to shareholders today.
“Many of our suppliers are however still facing increasing cost pressures and shortages of pallets, raw materials and labour.
“This has been coupled with increased severe flooding impacting our road and rail networks, particularly for Western Australia and Far North Queensland. We are working together with our suppliers, and both state and federal governments, to improve food supply chain resilience for all Australians.”
Coles has announced a 36c interim dividend for the first half, up from 33c this time last year.
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