Kingfisher’s turnaround is still a work in progress, but its UK chief executive is making good headway, says George MacDonald.
DIY group Kingfisher’s UK chief executive Euan Sutherland was educated in the retail school of hard knocks that was Dixons in the old days. But the 6ft 6in rugby fan, while nobody’s fool, is a gentler giant than some of those who gave him his early stores education.
Sutherland will occasionally relate with amusement tales from his Dixons years, such as being taken by directors to a south London street market to learn from the patter and nous of stallholders, or how he was yanked by his tie to shelf level so he could see things from the supposed perspective of “ordinary” – ie, shorter – shoppers.
But at Kingfisher, where he was appointed to his crucial role in April last year to drive the revival of the UK business under newly promoted group chief executive Ian Cheshire, and at the roles he held previously, Sutherland has shown himself to be in a different mould from the old-fashioned traders from whom he learned some of his merchant skills.
Focus on the customer and staff motivation have characterised his leadership of the business, including the flagship B&Q chain in the UK, which posted its third-quarter update this week.
Sutherland typically throws himself into his job with enthusiasm. While at Superdrug, the AS Watson-owned health and beauty group he ran before moving to Kingfisher, he analysed the contents of women’s handbags and went for facials to understand his customers. At B&Q, he has learned skills such as wallpapering for the same reason. Given his marketing background – he held marketing roles at companies ranging from Mars to Matalan – it is unsurprising that he takes such a keen interest, but Sutherland has strong operational skills too.
When Cheshire was made Kingfisher group chief executive, investors and shoppers had become dissatisfied with the retailer. The imperative under the new leadership was to run the business more efficiently and reconnect with consumers.
Sutherland has delivered his part of the bargain so far. Store standards have been improved and costs cut, but there has also been investment in aspects that affect customer experience, sentiment and willingness to spend, such as staff training.
Numis analyst Andy Wade praises Sutherland for the success of what is informally referred to as “Project Martini”, ensuring consistency across the business. “He’s done a great job,” says Wade.
Improved synergies, such as the use of Screwfix’s logistics system to fulfil next-day delivery of orders from B&Q’s website and increased group sourcing, have made the business more efficient.
And the business proposition has been enhanced by, for instance, the introduction of a reserve and collect service, the launch of specialised Screwfix catalogues and development of the trade arm.
The Kingfisher turnaround is still unfinished business, but observers such as Wade say that, as business continues to improve at Kingfisher UK, Sutherland’s currency is likely to rise further. At Kingfisher he also sits on the board of the Chinese and Russian businesses, and is learning French in recognition of the retailer’s Anglo-French foundations – Gallic giant Castorama is part of the group.
In his spare time, Sutherland enjoys country life. He keeps chickens and loves driving his Massey Ferguson tractor. But, unlike some of his old bosses at Dixons of yore, tractor power is strictly for weekends and not a management approach.
Family Married, with three sons
Interests Rugby, Formula One
Previously worked at Superdrug, Currys, Matalan, Mars Confectionery, Coca-Cola