From one type of brick to another, Jean-Jacques Van Oosten has rejoined DIY retailer Kingfisher from the Lego Group as chief customer and digital officer.

After 12 years away from B&Q owner Kingfisher, Belgian born Van Oosten, known as JJ to his friends and colleagues, has returned to the company, now led by chief executive Thierry Garnier.

With previous executive experience at Tesco, builders’ merchant Travis Perkins and luxury goods giant Richemont as well as Lego – and with a PhD in molecular genetics and an MBA from London Business School – he should bring a wealth of knowledge that Kingfisher urgently needs. 

Jean-Jacques Van Oosten

Jean-Jacques Van Oosten

Following a difficult few years for Kingfisher, Garnier has been on a hiring spree to bolster his top team and dig the struggling DIY retailer out of the hole it’s in. Van Oosten is expected to play a key role.

Starting with immediate effect, Van Oosten’s priorities are to drive digital operations, adopting a mobile-first approach and developing its ecommerce operations. All the digital initiatives will be focused on customer needs.

In his former Kingfisher post as IT director, Van Oosten was responsible for developing KITS – its first shared-service centre – and he improved the digital capabilities at B&Q and Screwfix.

He speaks English, French and German, which should give him an advantage at a business operating brands across Europe such as Castorama, Brico Depot and Screwfix.

He has been poached from Lego after just under a year as chief digital officer, a role that is also heavily focused on customers.

At the toy powerhouse, he designed the strategy and organisation for a new digital ecosystem centred around children and adults – who are the actual buyers of the products.

He also worked on changing how customers buy, register, use Lego apps and magazines across different countries.

Speaking the right language

As Kingfisher attempts to rekindle success, retail headhunter Tony Gregg believes blending customer and digital responsibilities makes sense and Van Oosten looks well placed for the task.

Gregg says: “He’ll be doing all the customer segmentation to really understand the consumer and you really need the digital bit. Kingfisher is really pushing its ecommerce and leaning away from bricks and mortar.” 

He says such skills are essential in retail today, and businesses need to understand their shoppers to “Clubcard standards”.

As a former Tesco chief information officer, Van Oosten should be able to bring such levels of insight to Kingfisher at a key moment.

After the departure of former chief executive Véronique Laury last year, her ‘One Kingfisher’ strategy has been called into question. It was built upon three pillars – the creation of unified product ranges, enhanced digital capabilities and generating operational efficiencies – that combined would add £500m a year to profits.

“Someone coming in who doesn’t understand the sector takes six months to get going, but he can hit the ground running”

Tony Gregg, Anthony Gregg Partnership

But the profit target was scrapped and Garnier has been given free rein to evaluate the business. Whether that means One Kingfisher will stay or go, no one knows just yet.

Van Oosten is the latest appointment since Garnier’s arrival, as he bolsters the top team. Bernard Bot was appointed as chief financial officer late last year. John Wartig, who had been CFO on an interim basis, has moved to the permanent position of chief transformation and development officer. Alain Rabec has been brought onboard as Kingfisher France chief executive.

Van Oosten’s employment track record should add to the team.

Gregg says: “It helps dramatically that he knows DIY. He’s got Travis Perkins [on his CV] as well and has stepped outside into the wider world, so he’s not just DIY.

“Someone coming in who doesn’t understand the sector takes six months to get going, but he can hit the ground running. That saves them a lot of time, so I can see why they’ve brought someone back like him. This guy is proven and he’s fluent in all the languages, which is beneficial.”

As Garnier starts to reconstruct Kingfisher, Van Oosten should bring not just valuable knowledge of bricks, but of the clicks which increasingly count in today’s retail environment.