Leader’s Profile: the primo position in smallgoods

Paul Hitchcock
CEO
Primo Smallgoods

Primo Smallgoods is Australia’s leading smallgoods company and a leading producer of beef. Retail World talks to CEO Paul Hitchcock about his career, the company and his outlook for the grocery industry.

What was your first job?

My first job was as a trainee accountant for James Hardie. However, I haven’t done accounting for a long time. Over the years I’ve been a finance director for different businesses, I’ve been a sales director for Castlemaine XXXX, part of the Lion Nathan Group. I have also been a human resources director in three of Lion Nathan’s businesses across Australia and New Zealand.

By the time I got my first general management role I was ready to go. I had done multifunctional roles, so I think I was well rounded by the time I took my first general manager’s job.

What is your proudest career achievement?

My time at Goodman Fielder when I looked after the commercial and the international business, and increased the profitability of my division, which had been underperforming. It increased profits fivefold and that led to a very successful float of Goodman Fielder back in 2005.

Another thing was becoming the CEO of a public company. I was the CEO of Corporate ExpressI’d always wanted to be the CEO of a public company and now I can tick that off my bucket list.

What is your biggest regret in business?

Not making the ‘people calls’ earlier. Every time I get a gut feel someone’s not right and I need to move on an issue, my biggest regret is not dealing with the ‘people’ issue sooner. That goes both ways: I’ve promoted people and they have been a huge success and I think, why didn’t I do that earlier?

You are only as strong as the people working for you. To be an effective leader you need good followers. You need people that are very capable at what they are doing and want to follow their leader.

What rules do you live by? 

Two rules: the customer is king and treat everyone with respect.

I treat everybody with respect and it doesn’t matter who you are, or what your position is, that’s something I’ve always lived by.

At the end of the day the customer is king. and if you don’t love your customer, someone else will. We are all here today because we have customers. As a 16 year old I used to pump petrol when I was still at school and the owner of the company had a sign that said ‘You are here today because we have customers’ and I have never forgotten that.

What are your predictions for the grocery industry in 2015? 

In terms of market shares, retailer shares won’t move much on where they are today. There will continue to be a focus on value offerings to consumers to attract more shoppers.

On the flipside, I think you will see more of a focus around innovation. Everybody’s looking for some point of differentiation and to bring excitement and growth to their categories.

It’s tough to gain share and sales and we can’t keep doing it on price. We have really got to innovate and excite consumers. Manufacturers such as Primo have a big role to play with this and it is a priority for our business.

What are your predictions for the grocery industry in 2015? 

In terms of market shares, retailer shares won’t move much on where they are today. There will continue to be a focus on value offerings to consumers to attract more shoppers.

On the flipside, I think you will see more of a focus around innovation. Everybody’s looking for some point of differentiation and to bring excitement and growth to their categories.

It’s tough to gain share and sales and we can’t keep doing it on price. We have really got to innovate and excite consumers. Manufacturers such as Primo have a big role to play with this and it is a priority for our business.

Where do you see the grocery industry in three years? 

There is a big focus on fresh by the large retailers. They want to win the hearts and minds of consumers in fresh. If they sell more fresh products, they sell more non-fresh products, so fresh is a real drawcard.

I think retailers will continue to focus on value, whether it’s through their own brands or supplier brands. All the retailers are watching each other and all are trying to maintain a lowprice perception in the minds of the shopper. ALDI’s entry into SA and WA will be interesting and will put pressure on the existing retailers there.

Australian grocery retailers, in my view, are generally performing very well. They are extremely well managed and deliver world class margins. While there will be pressure on them to hold current margins, they always seem to find new ways to grow and deliver good returns to their shareholders.