Leah Weckert, a former McKinsey consultant and Foster’s beer executive, has been appointed as the new CEO of Coles, Australia’s second-largest supermarket chain. Weckert will be the first woman to lead Coles in its 109-year history, and her appointment raises the number of women leading top-20 ASX companies to five. She will take over from Steven Cain, who has been in the role since 2018.
Weckert was previously the CFO of Coles when it was demerged from Wesfarmers and listed on the ASX in 2018. She later moved to the lead commercial role, where she was responsible for all key merchandising decisions. She has an “outstanding track record of leadership and driving change inside Coles across key operating areas of the business,” according to Coles chairman James Graham.
Weckert will be taking over as CEO at a critical time for Coles, as she will oversee the completion and start-up of the retailer’s twin groundbreaking tech infrastructure projects of the automated distribution centres and new e-commerce platform, which combined have a budget of almost $1.5 billion.
Weckert faces economic challenges in the supermarket business driven by rising interest rates and pressures on household budgets. Coles has observed a significant switch to cheaper private-label groceries in the second quarter. Cain said he expected that more customers would be value conscious as cost-of-living pressures, such as rising mortgage payments and energy price increases.
The half-year result was boosted by a $130 million reduction in Covid-related costs to only $20 million for the half, with pre-tax group earnings of $1.058 billion well ahead of market forecasts. The retailer declared an interim dividend of 36c a share, up from 33c for the same period last year, and payable on March 30. Jarden analyst Ben Gilbert called it a strong result with the supermarkets arm driving the better-than-expected profit.