A retail globetrotter, considering all the high-level assignments he’s held around the world, Jennings just concluded a three-year run at the helm of Woolworths South Africa, based in Cape Town, where he triggered a whirlwind of change. He’s ready for some change himself.
“I have now completed my contract with Woolworths and [am ending] on a very high note — major sales and profit increases and some impressive market share increases,” Jennings told WWD. “The company has asked me to become an adviser over the next three years, depending on my next assignment.”
Jennings said he was considering some job possibilities, but has not made a decision. Though he’s a native of London, it is believed he is eager to return to the U.S. and lead a company within the fashion-retail sector.
At Woolworths, the 39-year retail veteran held the title of group managing director. Among his accomplishments, he shifted the corporate mentality from product focused to consumer centric and injected a handful of modern and contemporary fashion labels into the predominantly moderate-price private label to meet the demand for brands from South Africa’s emerging black middle class. He was on a drive to elevate women’s and men’s apparel and accessories to a level closer to the chain’s high-end food offering and implemented a merchandising matrix with good, better, best pricing on one side of the grid, and classic, modern and contemporary styling on the other — to guide the buying and distribution decisions for different doors. It’s the same grid Jennings helped implement at Saks Inc., where he spent a turbulent two-and-a-half years as president just before joining Woolworths.
At the South African retailer, Jennings also established a product design studio, a 10-day “buying academy” for buyers, associate buyers and planners to train in the basics of gross margin calculations, and a customer-relations management department with a database of more than two million customers.
Women’s, men’s and accessories is almost entirely private label and represents 55 percent of the chain’s total volume. Food is 45 percent of the business and is 90 percent private label, 10 percent brands. Woolworths, known as “Woolies,” is considered a mass merchant for middle and upper incomes.
The company generated revenues of 21.8 billion rand, or $3 billion at average exchange, and net profits of 952 million rand, or $131 million, in the fiscal year ended June 30.
Prior to Woolworths and Saks, Jennings was president of Holt Renfrew in Canada, deputy chairman of Brown Thomas in Ireland, and managing director of House of Fraser and general manager of Harrods, both in London. In the early part of his career, he worked at retailers in South Africa.
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