House of Fraser executive chairman Frank Slevin said the appointment of Goodwood chief executive Alex WiIliamson as its new boss was a “bold” but “logical” move to transform the department store group into an experience-led retailer in line with its recent five-year strategy.
Frank Slevin and Alex Williamson
“The five-year vision we unveiled recently underlined the direction we’re going, so I don’t think this appointment will be a surprise to the market,” Slevin told Drapers today. “It’s an appointment outside of retail, but we did go through a comprehensive process and pace was less important to me then getting the right person in the seat.
“The brief we had was to look at retail but also beyond retail to leisure, travel and entertainment and other customer-focused fields.”
He praised Alex for his “track record of delivering customer-focused, engaging and compelling experience” and brushed off any concerns about a lack of retail experience.
“It is a reasonably bold move, but we have built up a very strong and balanced retail senior executive team, which allowed me to think more broadly for the chief executive role,” he said.
“We have been very open that transformation will be critical and the business of department store retail needs to transform, so I believe Alex is the right person to lead that.”
Transformation is not delivered by more of the same
Slevin cited the Goodwood Revival classic motor racing event specifically as a perfect example of Williamson’s skillset: “It’s hard to identify a more experience-led event in the UK calendar. His experience will be supplemented by the existing retail team. If you look at the balance within the executive committee, Alex will have plenty of people with retail experience to turn to. Our COO, for example, has been in retail for more than 30 years.
“Transformation is not delivered by more of the same.”
The executive chairman said Williamson has been very involved in the last few months with discussion of what the HoF vision is: “That vision is a framework with an enormous amount of flexibility, so there is the opportunity for him to put his personal stamp on it.
“The reality is that everyone is talking about the same story – how do we create more compelling in-store experiences – so this appointment is entirely logical to deliver on that in an effective way.”
Slevin added that Williamson has plenty of international experience, in particular in Asia and China, which he believes will stand him in good stand with regards to HoF’s international expansion plans.
He also revealed the firm has appointed a new group head of HR, who is due to start at the beginning of July, but would not confirm the name at this stage.
Slevin said the business has performed “absolutely fine” in the first three months of the year so far, but that trading continues to be challenging as “the industry as a whole is challenged”.
“We have replatformed the business and there was a predicted impact, but the execution has been particularly smooth,” he said.