Dan Murphy’s former boss embarks on new challenge at Coles

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 12th September 2008

Tony Leon, an instrumental figure in building the Dan Murphy’s chain, has been recruited by Wesfarmers to become the head of their liquor division.

Mr Leon announced he would step down from the post of General Manager in June, with the owner of the Dan Murphy’s chain, Woolworths, reporting that the split was “amicable”. The move to work for the key rival is reportedly due to his desire for a new challenge and, at Coles – where a five year turnaround has begun under new boss Ian McLeod, he will find just that.

Archie Norman, the former boss of UK retailer Asda and consultant of Wesfarmers – recruited to assist with the Coles turnaround, has reportedly dubbed the Coles challenge as the “most exciting turnaround opportunity in global retail”. And, it appears that many agree with him as, since his arrival, six managers from leading UK retailers have joined Coles including former Asda employee Ian McLeod – who was given the responsibility of leading the company through an important era.

“Tony Leon’s appointment reflects a continuing trend of appointing high-calibre and proven performers to the team … working to turn around the performance of the Coles’ food and liquor businesses,” Mr McLeod said upon announcing the appointment.

Mr Leon hinted that he believes he can orchestrate a turnaround in the liquor division at Coles, which would see them flourish. “Having built a successful liquor business in Australia, I look forward to doing the same again in supporting the Coles turnaround,” he advised.

When Dan Murphy’s was purchased by Woolworths a decade ago they had five stores with turnover of around $100 million. This has now swelled to 88 stores with a turnover of around $2 billion annually under the leadership of Mr Leon.

At Coles, Mr Leon’s responsibilities will be increased as he will be in charge of more than 700 outlets under the Liquorland, Vintage Cellars and 1st Choice banners.

With Mr Leon’s renowned negotiation skills, it is widely considered that a price war could develop, which would place greater pressure on the independents as well as Woolworths.