Blackmores' new boss: Appointment expected by mid-June as firm confirms A$20m efficiency drive

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

Marcus Blackmore revealed that the Board had narrowed down its options after conducting an international search for Henfrey's replacement, and hoped to make a formal announcement by mid-June.
Marcus Blackmore revealed that the Board had narrowed down its options after conducting an international search for Henfrey's replacement, and hoped to make a formal announcement by mid-June.
Australian supplements giants Blackmores' ongoing hunt for a new CEO in the wake of Richard Henfrey's resignation may soon come to an end, as owner Marcus Blackmore has confirmed that the firm is now looking at its final candidates.

Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia ​on May 31, Blackmore revealed that the Board had narrowed down its options after conducting an international search for Henfrey's replacement, and hoped to make a formal announcement by mid-June.

He said: "I have a contender sitting in the next office waiting for me as we speak, and today might be the last of the interviews.

"We're certainly down to the last two or three candidates and hopefully, we can make an announcement in the next couple of weeks."

If all goes according to plan, Blackmores will achieve its goal of securing a new CEO by July 1​, just in time for the next financial year.

Employment ennui

However, even as the firm  moves closer to hiring a new CEO, Blackmore implied that it would have fewer employees overall, at least in the short term.

"There's quite a transformation going on at the moment — some people will leave and others will be hired, though I think more will be leaving than joining us at the moment."

One such leaver was the former MD of the firm's Australia and New Zealand operations, Dave Fenlon, who resigned in early May, a mere three months after Henfrey. He subsequently joined Australian natural beauty company BWX as its new CEO.

Blackmore was unreserved in publicly expressing his views on Fenlon’s resignation, saying that above all, he felt disappointed.

"I have to say I was very disappointed that Dave left. He was more than just an employee — he was a friend. I think he's quite talented and he works hard; he certainly contributed a lot to Blackmores," ​he said.

However, amid industry speculation that Fenlon may have decided to leave after not being offered the vacant CEO position, Blackmore maintained that his resignation was more a matter of timing and opportunity.

He said: "I don't think Dave expected to take over after Richard left. I'm sure he would have liked to, but he'd gotten an offer from BWX in Melbourne, where he used to live and where his family still lives. He's a Melbourne boy at heart, even though he's really English.”

When asked if Fenlon was actually considered for the position of CEO at Blackmores, he said: "It's the Board's responsibility to hire and fire people in upper management. I'm sure Dave was considered in the picture, but he elected not to participate because by then, he'd been offered another job.

"Besides, after Richard — who was an internal appointment — the Board wanted to look outside the company for his replacement."

Changes and the Chinese channel

In terms of its wider business strategy, Blackmores plans to reduce its operating costs by A$20m annually over the next three years, a move that Blackmore insists is "more about efficiency than cost"​.

This is part of a 'substantial change' the firm is undergoing in order to reverse its recent muted performance (particularly in China), which saw its share price plunge by 23%​.

Blackmore said: "We're hoping to come out the other end with a reinvigorated team of people. As I've said before, we'd gotten too fat and bureaucratic, and our new organisational structure is designed to address all the issues we've identified in our business."

He also admitted the company had not been sufficiently prepared for the impact of the daigou ​platform on its business.

Despite having an 'inkling' when the Chinese government began clamping down​ on daigou​ sellers, Blackmore said, "Unexpectedly, we had pharmacies ringing us up saying they wanted 100 of this product and 100 of that product (to meet demand from daigou sellers), which made me wonder what was going on."

Still, he believes Blackmores stands to gain from the daigou​ channel, though the stricter rules and regulations mean there may not be as big an opportunity as there was in the past.

To take maximise the company's potential in this regard, the Blackmore Institute has established a dedicated programme designed to educate and engage with daigou ​sellers.

Blackmore said: "We're doing things to embrace the platform in any way we can. The opportunity for us may not be as big as it was before, but I think we can still benefit from it.

"In fact, within the next couple of weeks, we'll have some daigou sellers coming into Blackmores to have a look around."

Apart from engaging more actively on the daigou ​platform, Blackmores continues to look into the possibility of a joint venture with a domestic Chinese firm that can provide logistical and distribution support for the company in China.

"We have a joint venture with Kalbe in Indonesia, and that's going extremely well. We'd like to have a similar relationship with a local Chinese company."

Under the Blackmores-Kalbe partnership, 42 of Blackmores' products are marketed and distributed in Indonesia. The company reported a 72% growth in Indonesian sales in H2 last year, with net sales of A$6.6m in Q3.

"We're not sure exactly what we want to do in China right now, but we know that before we partner with any Chinese company, we need to make sure it not only has distribution capabilities we don't have in China, but that it also understands the market, government, environment and regulations well," ​said Blackmore.

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