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Appointments: Retailing chief plans to expand appliance stores

Friday 8th December 2000

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EXPERIENCED: Having had only three jobs in his career, Peter Halkett sees himself as stable
By Graeme Kennedy

The Pacific Retail Group (PRG) of Noel Leeming, Bond & Bond and Computer City has begun a period of growth and much-needed stability under new chief executive Peter Halkett after five years of directionless upheaval.

The group's former chief operating officer, Mr Halkett said the company had shed its legacy of "tremendous" turmoil at board and management levels since entrepreneur businessman Eric Watson acquired a controlling interest of more than 60%.

He said PRG, previously owned by Sir Roger Bhatnagar and partner Greg Lancaster, had suffered under major shareholder Murray International, a Scotland-based company far removed from its New Zealand retail investment.

"Murray were long-distance owners. They would fly out here for meetings but were not close to the business and during the period of the internal merger between Bond & Bond and Noel Leeming there was a lot of political in-fighting," Mr Halkett said.

"That was a time when a lot of board-level involvement was needed but the company was not focused on the issues it should have been - there was a leadership vacuum.

"The company was over-promising and under-delivering with no good business strategy and the basics weren't right.

"But Eric was very focused although there was still upheaval when he initially took over and sought to restructure. He faced issues which had not been dealt with for some time."

However, with a new board in place former chief executive Stefan Preston recommended the sweeping changes be made quickly and stability restored to PRG management.

Mr Halkett had joined the group in 1998 as general manager of Noel Leeming-Computer City but with the restructure Mr Preston elevated him to group chief operating officer as the Leeming-Bond & Bond merger into a single operation was being completed.

While retaining their independent branding, the merger removed the chains' expensive duplicated administration and operational systems.

"Stefan put me in as chief operating officer rather than recruiting someone new because he wanted someone who knew the business and the industry and would give consistent management and leadership," Mr Halkett said.

The PRG job is only his third in the retail business after starting with Farmers in Christchurch as a television technician straight from school in 1976.

"I very soon realised that was not for me and requested a transfer. I went into sales and managed stores for the next 10 or 12 years before I joined Southpower when it decided to expand its appliance sales operation and became managing director of its retail subsidiary," he said.

"When they sold it to Smiths City, people in the industry knew I would be available and PRG offered me the Noel Leeming position. I've always been in retail and appliances. I know the industry and with only three jobs in my career I think I'm a reasonably stable person."

Noel Leeming has 50 stores and specialises in whiteware and computers through its sub-brand Computer City. Bond & Bond's 40 outlets offer brown goods such as televisions, videos, stereos, camcorders and DVDs.

"Bond & Bond have tended to be in the malls but we are changing that and will move to larger sites for better performance. Noel Leeming has bigger shops, mostly in the cities and larger regional centres, and we have identified an opportunity to take them into the slightly smaller towns," Mr Halkett said.

"We have the demand, a brand people trust and cost structures where stores can operate successfully and profitably on lower turnovers than they could in the past.

"Growing Noel Leeming is a continuing process - we increased floorspace 10% last year - but there is no big, radical difference between it and Bond & Bond - there is room in New Zealand for two specialist appliance chains and we want to be both."

Mr Halkett said Computer City would be taken out of Noel Leeming and developed as an independent chain.

"There is a lot of growth coming out of computers and our strength is having a big market share in that sector. There is still a lot of market penetration as well as upgrades with technology changes as well as replacements.

"We are also doing a lot of work on the internet, rolling out Noel Leeming and Bond & Bond sites and revamping the Computer City site next year."

Peter Halkett
Position: Chief executive Pacific Retail Group
Age: 40
Marital status: Married, two children
Pastimes: Beach, travel, exploring

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