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Two weeks ago, Brad Banducci – the Managing Director and CEO of Woolworths Group – announced his ‘retirement’, following the most embarrassing performance of improvised dancing (around the questions) that Woolworths has ever had to publicly perform. 

Brad, appointed in 2016, was interviewed on the ABC’s ‘Four Corners’ segment, in a piece about the cost of living crisis and the price gouging by the major Australian supermarket duopoly – Woolworths and Coles – which both collectively hold about 65% of the Australian grocery market share.

After first stumbling, and mumbling, and fumbling his way through the interview, he decided to twirl his way out of the studio about mid-way through in order to avoid such an incredibly uncomfortable situation for himself.

He did – however – manage to return later to continue the interview (assumedly after an extensive talk with his PR team), though the clip of his blunder has since been popping up on social media left and right. This moment truly reflects the current sentiment of the public towards the big supermarket conglomerates in this country.

For Banducci to stand up and walk away from an interview conducted by our national, publicly owned news outlet, feels almost to say that he doesn’t feel it necessary to be held accountable by the people of Australia, not even through our public institutions.

Woolworth’s Group has stated that Banducci’s ‘retirement’ had nothing to do with the shit-show which occurred during his interview, and I personally struggle to believe this. But this really doesn’t matter, because the real question we should be asking is this, “what does this mean for us?” After all, surely the ‘retirement’ of this major conglomerate CEO could mean a world of difference to us common folk. But to effectively answer this question, we need to first ask a question of clarification to the board of Woolworths Group, “who will be taking over Banducci’s role?” This is the question I’ll be answering first. Will they be a hero for Australians in this time of need? Or will they be conducting business as usual?

Let’s find out…


Who will be taking over Banducci’s role?

After Banducci announced his ‘retirement’, Woolworths Group announced that their replacement for him will be Amanda Bardwell, who is currently the Managing Director of WooliesX – Woolworths Group’s digital arm – which is a role she’s held since its creation in 2017.

WooliesX has had its focus on an “Amazon-style approach” to retailing (a truly inspirational start, I know), and just like the rest of the Woolworths Group, this approach really shows itself off in the numbers. In the last financial year, WooliesX saw an increase in its EBIT (Earnings Before Interest and Taxation) to $168 million, from $72 million the financial year prior, which is an approximate 132% increase.

EBIT – in the financial world – is used as an indicator of whether a business can be profitable, and whether it will be able to maintain its operations (this is the idea, at least). This earnings increase comes alongside a decrease in expenditure in this end of the business, with capital expenditure in digital business dropping by $18 million (an approximate 25% drop), in e-commerce by $26 million (an approximate 37.7% drop).

While there was a slight increase in IT spending by the business from $129 million to $131 million, it seems for the most part that this marks a significant decrease in costs for WooliesX, while still receiving a significant increase in sales and income. If Amanda was going for an “Amazon-style approach”, then she’s certainly doing an incredible job at it.

Now, it isn’t exactly shocking that Amanda has been cutting costs and boosting profits in her time at WooliesX, after all, this is generally what we consider to be the default for the bosses of big business. But what is shocking is that we are currently faced with a cost-of-living crisis that is leaving many Australians either on the precipice of poverty and homelessness, or already facing such a reality.

What makes this all even more concerning is that in the second half of 2023, Woolworths Group posted a net loss of $781 million due to a write-down of its New Zealand business, and this fact will leave many major shareholders wanting an answer going into the remainder of 2024. It will mean that Woolworths Group will be more profit-hungry than ever, trying to regain its already tainted image with its major shareholders, an image which directly contradicts the public’s interest in combatting the cost-of-living crisis, and the price-gouging of the major supermarket conglomerates.

It’s reasonable to believe – with her track record – that the board believes Amanda Bardwell may be their answer to this big question of “Profit?” As a result, Amanda will likely be looking to cut her teeth in what will be the most ‘important’ job of her life, and the single biggest job in the Australian supermarket industry.

So, to answer the final, major question…


What does Brad Banducci’s ‘retirement’ mean for us?

It means absolutely nothing. With the current direction that Woolworths Group seems to be taking, we can expect to see the same old profit-focused strategies that we’ve come to know from them, if not potentially worse by the hand of Amanda Bardwell’s promotion to the role of CEO and Managing Director.

But, at least – for now – we get to point and laugh at Brad Banducci for being so incompetent at answering such simple questions.


Some of the information in this article was obtained from the following sources:

Woolworths Group’s 2023 Annual Report. 
‘Woolworths banks continued digital growth’ by Richard Chirgwin (Feb 21, 2024 via iTnews) 
‘New Woolies CEO Amanda Bardwell’s first job in retail was at 14’ by Simon Evans (Feb 21, 2024 via Australian Financial Review) 
‘Meet WooliesX, the new digital arm of Woolworths’ by Ry Crozier (Jul 19, 2017 via iTnews) 

 

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