By James Wells

MELBOURNE: The former chief financial officer of Woolworths and current non-executive chairman of Housewares International, William (Bill) Wavish, has been appointed as the new Myer executive chairman after the sale of the company for $1.4 billion.

Wavish stepped down as chairman to become non-executive chairman of Housewares International at the company’s Annual General Meeting in late November last year after a 12-month role, which included plans to merge the company’s electrical and non electrical or homewares divisions.

Wavish will step down from the board of Housewares International prior to joining Myer.

One of Wavish’s key projects as chairman with HWI was the Breville Home concept where electrical and non-electrical products were sold under the company’s hero brand in Myer department stores.

“The success and differentiation of this Breville Home homewares and electrical range has drawn international interest, and we are at various stages of discussion with major retailers in four countries that could allow us to leverage this development work internationally,” Wavish said at the AGM.

“The distinctions between the homewares and electrical product categories and divisions are greying, as brand and customer become key. We believe that our ability to provide a combined value-added homewares and electrical offering to our customers ideally positions us to capitalise on this.”

In early April 2005, Wavish announced a program of change in the business, chiefly centred around exiting about 20 per cent of its non-electrical homewares business where retailers were already, or were likely in the future, to source direct from overseas factories, mainly in China.

“We have set about aligning the culture of our homewares business with that of our more successful electrical business, both in Australia and overseas. In making these fundamental changes to the Australian homewares business, we have ceased to be an ‘item house’, buying existing product from factory catalogues and from trade fairs, and are now, like our electrical division, a designer of our own products which are made to our specifications and designs by our China factory partners. We believe that these changes will enable the Australian homewares business to position itself for future growth,” he said.

As chairman, Wavish set HWI on the path towards export sales. This year the company’s international business should represent a third of the company’s sales and 40 per cent of the company’s profits.

“In around two to three years we would expect International to represent more than half of our business, with the distinction between electrical and homewares diminishing,” Wavish said at the company’s AGM.

During his 12 months as chairman at HWI, Wavish sought to reduce the company’s accounts by 40 per cent, rationalised and reduced the China factory count by 30 per cent, reduced staff numbers by 20 per cent, exited one of two outside storage warehouses, exited or contrated to sell 25 per cent of the homewares inventory which represented 75 per cent of the company’s exit target and closed 20 per cent of the homewares product lines, which represented 50 per cent of the company’s deletions target.

Wavish is also a former director of Woolworths Limited, where he held numerous senior management and board positions, including being the director responsible for the Woolworths Supermarkets Group and finance director.

Wavish has worked in Asia and Australia in the food, finance, property and general merchandise sectors.

Last Monday, Wavish increased his shareholding in Housewares International by 25,000 shares ($48,000) to 132,013 shares.