As adviser to Wesfarmers, which last month acquired Coles for Aus$20 billion (£8.56 billion), Norman will replicate the approach he took at Asda to create customer focus, cut red tape and strengthen management.
Norman said Coles represented “the most exciting turnaround opportunity in global retail”, but the transformation programme is likely to take up to five years to complete.
“Behind every financial failure is an operational failure, but the basis is there for a very considerable recovery,” said Norman. “It’s about getting people out into the stores and turning to face the customer instead of each other.”
Norman said that the previous management had allowed head office bureaucracy and over-centralisation to flourish and that his most important role would be to help build “a world-class management team”.
Various top roles at Coles, including chief executive of the supermarkets division, are vacant at present and it is understood UK candidates are front-runners to take senior positions.
Norman said: “This is a great opportunity and no doubt there will be people from the UK who go out.”
Wesfarmers’ takeover of Coles made it the biggest retailer in Australia, but arch-rival Woolworths has been piling on pressure. Last year, while Coles managed like-for-like growth of only 1.6 per cent, Woolworths generated a 6.6 per cent jump.
Norman insisted that the Coles brand was highly respected by shoppers and that there had been big investment in infrastructure, which has not previously been taken advantage of.
At present, independent food retailers account for a large proportion of fresh food sales in the country. Norman believes there is an opportunity for Coles to take a greater share, as UK supermarkets have done in the past 20 years.
Morale at Coles has been boosted by the sale, Norman said. “Store managers have struggled for years and they’re very motivated for a change.”