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Mitre 10 boss Neil Cowie to depart after five-year building boom

Tuesday 5th February 2019

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Mitre 10 chief executive Neil Cowie will end a five-year stint in charge of the country's biggest hardware chain, having overseen a 50 percent increase in annual sales. 

Under Cowie's leadership, sales across the group's 40 Mitre 10 and 41 Mitre 10 MEGA stores increased to $1.5 billion in the year ended June 30, from $1.04 billion in the June 2014 year. Before he took over the reins, Mitre 10 generated sales of $944 million. 

"Neil has been a pleasure to work with – he has a real passion for retail, has thrived in our cooperative environment by building strong and genuine relationships with our members and suppliers alike," chair Martin Dippie said in a statement. "I believe his greatest achievement has been his contribution to the future vision for Mitre 10 and building a really strong executive leadership team to deliver this."

Mitre 10's network compares to 62 Fletcher Building-owned Placemaker stores, 55 Wesfarmers-owned Bunnings stores, and 53 Carters outlets. 

Chief financial officer Matthew Washington has been appointed acting CEO while the board starts an international search for a new head. Cowie will help the board during the handover period. 

Cowie and Washington held the same CEO-CFO roles at failed children's wear retailer Pumpkin Patch, jumping ship to the hardware chain as the rag trade came under increasing pressure from cheaper online rivals. Their move was well-timed as the Canterbury rebuild and Auckland house shortage stoked demand for building materials and home furnishings. 

Government figures show inflation-adjusted retail sales of hardware, building and garden supplies rose to $7.64 billion in the March 2018 year, from $5.92 billion in the March 2014 year, a 29 percent increase. Including inflation, sales were up 35 percent, lagging behind Mitre 10's increase. 

That tailwind appears to have eased with the Canterbury rebuild past its peak. But the government's efforts to build 100,000 houses during the coming decade will continue to stoke demand. 

Cowie said the past five years were the most enjoyable and satisfying of his career, which has included stints at discount chain Warehouse Group and Australian retailers Big W and Michel's Patisserie. 

"Very few leaders get the opportunity to preside over more than $600 million of growth during their tenure," he said. "I am particularly proud of the unique culture we have created at Mitre 10 which I believe has helped to create sustainable value to our member shareholders, as well as being a great place for people to come and work each day."


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