Retailers and industry observers have largely welcomed the news that Sergio Bucher, boss of Amazon’s European fashion business, has been appointed as chief executive at Debenhams, citing his digital credentials as the “shake-up” the department store group needs to compete on the high street.
Debenhams named Bucher as outgoing chief executive Michael Sharp’s replacement this morning (May 26), after months of speculation about the leadership succession.
The choice of Bucher, who held roles at Inditex, Nike and Puma prior to working at Amazon, has been described as a “curve-ball”, but has been largely welcomed by the industry.
On Twitter, Andy Harding, outgoing chief customer officer at House of Fraser, said it was a sign of the “future” that Debenhams had selected a “digital native” as its CEO, following the promotion of Ross Clemmow, Debenhams’ ecommerce director, to retail director for the UK and Ireland in April.
John Scott, director of international business development at Debenhams, said the appointment was “inspired” and reflected “the leadership demands of an international multichannel business”.
David Walmsley, former digital director at Marks & Spencer, told Drapers it could be a “great move” for the department store group and was a clear indication that chairman Ian Cheshire “wants to shake it up”.
Independent analyst Richard Hyman said Bucher’s appointment was “just as critical” for Debenhams.
“This is a retail market unlike any I have ever seen. It is clearly an unconventional choice but Sergio will bring a totally different perspective to the business, and one likely to question and challenge everything. This exactly what Debenhams needs – reinvention to carve out its own identity and set its own agenda.”
Fran Minogue, managing partner at executive search firm Clarity, agreed that Bucher will bring something “fresh” to the Debenhams team.
“He’s not one of the usual suspects. He has great international experience and has a background of working with big brands and retailers, as well as his ecommerce experience with Amazon. At Nike and Inditex he worked with an integrated system and from Amazon he has experience of building his own label as well as trying to woo brands.”
Nivindya Sharma, analyst at Verdict Retail, agreed that Bucher’s experience with developing own brands will be valuable to Debenhams.
“It’s an area Debenhams is lacking in compared to House of Fraser and John Lewis. It relies on designers at Debenhams too much. Bucher can focus on that and make it relevant again.
“Debenhams needs to be more modern so it could be a good thing that they have looked for someone outside the department store business for the role. He has a strong team behind him that have that experience [of department stores] he lacks so as long as he listens to them it should be fine.”
However, Sharma added that Bucher’s lack of experience of being a chief executive may be a challenge.
“It is a valid concern that he has never run an entire business before, never mind a giant like Debenhams. The massive store estate needs to be modernised and it remains to be seen how he will overcome it. Bucher has spent years working at brands but he has never worked at a multibrand, multichannel retailer and Debenhams needs that balance between online and the physical store estate.”
One headhunter agreed: “It is a pretty strange choice. I’m sure he’s a good guy but as you can see from his career he has never run a British retailer and he has never run a business for that matter. Whoever the incumbent was going to be there would be questions over their ability but Bucher may attract more than others.”
Debenhams’ group like-for-like sales were up 2.4% on a constant currency basis for the 26 weeks to February 27, while its group profit before tax increased 5.5% to £93.8m. Ernesto Bisagno, vice president and senior analyst at credit ratings agency Moody’s, said it would be business as usual for Debenhams until Bucher joins in October.
“We wouldn’t expect any material change in Debenhams’ strategy of growing multichannel and international as a result of the management change, but it’s a wait and see situation,” he added. Finance sources have also indicated that it will be status quo from a stock market perspective unless a radical new plan is announced.
Drapers understands that a successor is yet to be placed at Amazon, which is ramping up its focus on fashion.