Harvey Norman chairman Gerry Harvey, has told the Financial Times that, at 75-years he won’t be slipping quietly into retirement. “I enjoy what I do,” he told one of the world’s leading business media ft.com. “If I have to go because I’m mentally or physically f****d then maybe I’ve got to go, but I’m not going willingly, I’m going screaming,” he said.
When questioned about the company’s performance over the past few years, Harvey acknowledged that, “There were people saying Harvey Norman had had its day, it was yesterday’s retailer. We’d certainly been given a kick in the arse. Most businesses which face a dip like that go broke. The Ireland problem is disappearing, New Zealand is very strong and we expect Asia to improve: we are regaining our mojo.”
He said Harvey Norman still planned to expand into mainland Britain but only when the Irish operation was profitable and conditions were right.
However, Harvey continued to doubt the efficacy of online sales to his business which accounts for about 3% of electrical and computer sales.
“Even now the internet is hyped,” Harvey, who likened the zealotry of some online advocates to religious cults. “If you are a manufacturer an internet company doesn’t suit you. An internet company does not display your product, it can’t upsell. But we do a better job than any of the opposition.”
“Gerry is a fierce competitor,” a former rival told ft.com. “He has a long-term view of the business and believes his model is the right one.”
Good customer service, having the best showrooms, instilling a sense of fairness and teamwork are key to success, Harvey told ft.com that he studies retailers all around the world to import the latest ideas. But he says success is still 80% luck. “There are plenty of people smarter than you by a long way. I just got lucky.”
Harvey was cutting in his praise of politicians. He described former Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard as “idiots”. He said Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a member of the centre-right Liberal party, is a “good bloke” but admits the public simply does not like him.
“The political system is broke. It doesn’t matter who the leader is if you are frozen in time and your hands are tied. Social media is so strong that minority groups get a huge say,” he added.
He also warned that Australia’s inability to pass reforms leaves its economy vulnerable.
“It’s crazy, Australia is in a situation where it is one of the most expensive countries in the world to do business and the resources boom is over,” Harvey said.
“The one thing we know for sure is we are entering a period of uncertainty in the world that is unprecedented.”
However, Morningstar analyst, Farina Parsons, is critical of Harvey’s record.
“The last 18 months have been good for Harvey Norman with a housing boom in Australia helping Gerry Harvey to turn round the business. But I have a feeling this is masking underlying issues with the company.”
“Gerry and his wife Katie own 30% of the equity… raising questions around whether it should be a listed company. It is run like a private company and it would be good to see a larger cross section of industry experience on the board.”