The new managing director of Waterstone’s is widely recognised in the trade as the right choice to turn the bookseller’s fortunes around
He may look like he’d be more at home on a football terrace or guarding the door of a nightclub, yet nothing could be further from the truth about Dominic Myers. The Waterstone’s managing director is a books man through and through, and is leading a turnaround of the business, which last week revealed a full-year profit slump of 61% to £2.8m.
Myers was promoted to the position after his predecessor, Gerry Johnson, was given the nudge in January, following a poor Christmas trading period. And if anyone can turn around the fortunes of the ailing book chain it is ‘Mr Fix-it’ Myers.
Myers knows books. Before joining Waterstone’s he was managing director of specialist book chain Blackwell.
Alan Giles, former chief executive of Waterstone’s parent, HMV Group, drafted Myers in as a consultant to advise on the acquisition of rival book chain Ottakar’s. Impressed with his performance, the retailer offered him a full-time position in 2006 to conclude the merger. “He did a fantastic job for us on that,” says Giles. “He has always been a Mr Fix-it.”
It was not only his operational prowess that shone. His strategic ability also made an impression. After a year at Waterstone’s he was deployed to HMV, where he worked closely with chief executive Simon Fox on group strategy.
“He is extremely bright and quickly gets to grips with problems,” says Giles. “Nothing fazes him. He’s a cheerful soul and has a good sense of humour.”
Myers clearly made an impression on Fox, who parachuted him in to lead the book chain’s turnaround this year. The book world welcomed the appointment, according to Scott Pack, director of digital product development at HarperCollins. Pack, who briefly worked alongside Myers at Waterstone’s, says: “His move to managing director is fantastic for Waterstone’s. He understands the book world so the purists across the industry won’t mind having him running it. He’s clearly an incredibly clever bloke, but also a nice bloke.”
Giles agrees: “He’s a known quantity and has already run a book business. A lot of people in publishing and Waterstone’s are very pleased and relieved to see that appointment.”
In the short time that Myers has been running the bookseller he has already made his mark. Within days of taking up his new position he reinstated Tim Watson, the highly regarded 21-year Waterstone’s veteran, as product director after he shocked the business and the industry in November by signalling his intention to leave. Giles says Myers’ decision was “very shrewd” and “a stunning early move”.
Myers also set to work on restructuring the chain. As well as giving buying power back to local branches he dived straight in at the deep end, “sacrificing the sacred cow that is the Waterstone’s logo”. Pack adds: “It’s brilliant. The [flexible nature of the logo] is a masterstroke. He’s saying: ‘We are going to change this’.”
Despite his appearance, and bold and direct nature, Myers is by no means unapproachable. Far from it, according to Pack, who describes him as a “decent bloke” who has “got time for people but doesn’t take any shit”. Another book industry source says: “He makes a point of recognising the contribution that people in his stores make.”
With the industry on side, and staff within Waterstone’s pleased that they have a genuine book person leading the retailer, Myers is well placed to take on the challenge of turning the business around. At the launch of the new-format Waterstone’s last week, founder Tim Waterstone attended, lending his weight to the support for the new boss.
Pack says Waterstone’s already “feels more honest and open now”.
But Giles points out the pitfalls of running the business. He says leading the bookseller is like “walking a tightrope of, on the one hand, capturing the economies of scale of such a large book chain, while on the other respecting the very strong desire for all purchasing decisions to be made at branch level”.
He adds that, while Myers may resemble a “nightclub bouncer”, he is in fact an “extremely accomplished individual, who understands books”. This surely gives him a chance of writing a new page in Waterstone’s history.
Education Myers is a graduate of Oxford University, with an MA in English Language and Literature
Lives In Oxford, with his wife and three daughters
2006 Joined Waterstone’s
2002 Joined Blackwell, leaving in 2005
Prior to Blackwell Held roles at Marks & Spencer and Somerfield and at toys brand Hasbro