The UK boss of Bunnings is taking a surprise three-month break as the new Australian owner of Homebase struggles to crack Britain’s DIY market.
Peter “PJ” Davis will start his extended period of leave in mid-January, a decision that will raise eyebrows in the City.
The 59-year-old company veteran defended his decision to take time out. He said: “I’ve been away from my family in Australia for three years and I want to take a break and I’m going to take a break.
“We have brought in a number of new senior executives so now seems like a good time. Then I’ll come back fresh as a daisy and get on with it.”
Asked about the performance of Homebase, Davis said: “The business is tough.”
Wesfarmers, the Australian conglomerate, took a gamble with its £340m purchase of the struggling Homebase chain in 2016. It intends to give the 250-store chain a facelift, spending £500m to turn it into a British version of the successful Australian DIY chain Bunnings, which is famous for low prices and customer service.
But at last count Homebase’s figures made grim reading, with sales tumbling nearly 14% in the three months to September, a disastrous performance blamed on clearing discontinued stock. The chain lost £54m in the first full year of Wesfarmers’ ownership and that figure is expected to increase in the current financial year, which runs until June.
Damian McGloughlin, who joined from the rival DIY chain B&Q this year, would be stepping up as acting managing director, the company confirmed.
Bunnings has also drafted in David Haydon from sister chain Officeworks to run Homebase. Haydon, who has worked for Wickes and B&Q, will be acting chief operating officer in Davis’s absence.
With years of hard work and a lot of cash required to reinvent Homebase, there are questions mark over whether new Wesfarmers chief executive Rob Scott, who according to Australian press reports recently visited the UK, will be as committed to the expensive project as…