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Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci steps down after trainwreck interview

Madeleine Achenza and Duncan EvansNCA NewsWire
Not Supplied
Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: NCA NewsWire

Woolworths Group has denied suggestions Wednesday’s shock announcement of CEO Brad Banducci’s resignation is related to a trainwreck media interview during which he tried to leave while facing questions about a probe into supermarket pricing practices.

Mr Banducci will step down in September, the company announced, and will be replaced by former WooliesX leader Amanda Bardwell.

Mr Banducci, who reportedly pocketed a whopping annual salary of more than $7m in his tenure, leaves the supermarket in a cloud of controversy after almost nine years at the helm.

He led the company to record profits, but an upcoming Senate inquiry will test whether Woolworths and other supermarkets have engaged in price gouging practices, and consumer sentiment towards the legendary brand has plummeted as cost-of-living pressures bite at the checkout.

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In the ABC interview, Mr Banducci made a disparaging remark about former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission head Rod Sims, who has alleged anti-competitive practices in Australia’s supermarket sector.

Mr Banducci briefly walked out of the interview after asking the ABC to cut out his sharp remarks about Mr Sims but returned to complete the interview.

Woolworths Chairman Scott Perkins (right) at the 2023 Woolworths AGM in Sydney. Mr Perkins denied Mr Banducci’s shock resignation on February 21, 2024 was connected to the controversies that have hit the retailer in the early weeks of the year. Dallas Kilponen/Woolworths
Camera IconWoolworths Chairman Scott Perkins (right) at the 2023 Woolworths AGM in Sydney. Mr Perkins denied Mr Banducci’s shock resignation on February 21, 2024 was connected to the controversies that have hit the retailer in the early weeks of the year. Dallas Kilponen/Woolworths Credit: Supplied

But in the company’s Wednesday earnings call with investors, Woolworths Group Chair Scott Perkins stressed the succession plan at the $40bn behemoth had started in mid 2023 and the timeline was “completely unaffected by the external events of the last couple of weeks”.

“So in the last couple of years it’s been a real point of focus and there’s been an ongoing dialogue with Brad as to when was the best time for him and the best time for Woolworths for that succession to be really activated,” he said.

“During the middle of last year, we started to focus on this a little bit more intently.

“We formed a subcommittee of the board. We have appointed two external advisers, one who was well known to the firm in terms of talent development and knew our internal bench and also an external executive search firm – as you would expect, the prospect of a chief executive role at Woolworths is one that really does attract international attention. We were interviewing potential candidates in the back half of last year.”

Ms Bardwell is an internal pick, having spent 23 years with the company, and nearly 30 years in retail.

“Amanda is a proven leader, business builder and modern retailer,” the Woolworths board said in an ASX statement on Wednesday morning.

“Most recently, under her leadership, WooliesX has gone from infancy in 2015 to a $7bn market leading business.

In a statement published to the ASX on Wednesday, Woolworths Group said Mr Banducci had given notice of his intention to retire after 13 years with the company and eight and a half years as chief executive.

Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci is stepping down after an ABC interview. Supplied
Camera IconWoolworths chief executive Brad Banducci is stepping down after an ABC interview. Supplied Credit: Supplied

Ms Bardwell will serve as managing director and group CEO from September 1.

She will receive a $2.15 million pay package in the new role, which includes superannuation.

Woolworths has suffered a tumultuous start to the year, with furore over its decision to stop selling Australia Day merchandise and a looming ACCC inquiry into pricing practices of Australia’s supermarkets.

Mr Banducci, speaking to investors, hit back at accusations of anti-competitive behaviour, arguing Woolworths operated in an “incredibly competitive market”.

“It’s an inconvenient truth to many,” he said, citing the “material penetration” of German retailer Aldi into the supermarket space and fierce competition in the “everyday needs” categories, which include home care, personal care, pets and childcare items.

“You see essentially every retailer getting into this category,” he said.

He said Woolworths had lost market share in the category.

He acknowledged the brand had suffered reputational damage from the launch of the Senate inquiry and fallout from its Australia Day position.

“We know we could have done a better job of that (Australia Day),” he said, but denied the company had lost market share after some in the community called for a boycott of the company.

It comes after the supermarket has been at the centre of the Australia Day merchandise scandal and an inquiry into price gouging. Today
Camera IconIt comes after the supermarket has been at the centre of the Australia Day merchandise scandal and an inquiry into price gouging. Today Credit: NCA NewsWire

The CEO faced backlash on Tuesday after storming out of the Four Corners interview, which aired on Monday night.

He said his time as a member of the Woolies team had been “a privilege, and one I have never taken for granted”.

Mr Perkins thanked Mr Banducci for his “outstanding leadership and contribution” and said he will remembered as one of the supermarkets “finest leaders”.

“Brad has lead a remarkable turnaround and transformation of the Group,” he said.“The test of any CEO is to leave the business in much better shape than when they started.

“On that simple metric, history will judge Brad to have been one of Woolworths’ finest leaders.”

WOOLIES AUSTRALIA DAY
Camera IconMr Banducci said his time as the supermarket boss has been a ‘privilege’. NCA NewsWire/Tertius Pickard Credit: News Corp Australia

Prime minister Anthony Albanese avoided commenting on the departing boss directly, instead reiterating his thoughts on the inquiry into supermarket prices.

“I want to talk about things other than personalities and what’s very clear is that customers should get the lowest prices possible,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“We need to make sure that competition is appropriate and that’s why we’ve set up reviews including by the ACCC and also the senate inquiry.”

Originally published as Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci steps down after trainwreck interview

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