Within days of the receivers taking control of the Dick Smith electronics chain last week, Nick Abboud confided in a colleague that he planned to quit the retailer.
It was an ignoble end for the ambitious chief executive, who rode the wave of optimism that engulfed Dick Smith and its stellar sharemarket listing all the way into the shore, where it crashed, leaving employees, shareholders, suppliers and even gift card holders grasping for a piece of the wreckage.
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Dick Smith employees 'a significant group of creditors'
Dick Smith administrators address creditors at a meeting in Sydney.
In early December there was talk the embattled chief executive had retreated to his harbourside home. Telephone calls from friends went unanswered, fuelling speculation Dick Smith's troubles were taking a personal toll on the boss.
Retail has been Abboud's life. The western Sydney boy worked his way up from Myer's shop floor, where he also met his wife, to the executive level and a role that put him in charge of 12,000 staff.
A 'broken man'
In the upheaval after administrators and receivers moved in on Dick Smith last week, friends reported Abboud was a "broken man".
Supporters describe hims as a "sleeves-rolled-up boss", who was upbeat about the outlook for Dick Smith as recently as October and was shocked by the appointment of receivers.
One former workmate said Abboud was well liked by colleagues and was very personable.
He got his start in retail in the Blacktown branch of electrical appliance retailer Chandlers. It was his first job out of school and at lunch he would share a sandwich with school friend and fellow Blacktown worker Peter Agamalis.
Agamalis was working at the time for a local real estate agent but he went on to set up Impact Systems, a PC manufacturer and wholesale distributor of computer components.
He lost touch with Abboud many years ago and his attempts to reconnect once Abboud took the top job at Dick Smith went unanswered.
"I guess he just got too big for me," he says.
Agamalis counts himself lucky not to be among the creditors looking to recover something from the ruins of Dick Smith but he too has been left out of pocket by Dick Smith.
My view is a whole lot of bad decisions were made over two years and they came home to roost.Industry insider
Chasing new sales, Impact provided Dick Smith with thousands of dollars worth of sample gaming products and Agamalis' attempts to recover the stock have gone unanswered.
Critics pan strategy
Abboud's detractors characterise the Dick Smith front man as a consummate salesman, whose dogged commitment to store expansion and private-label products brought the business to its knees.
There are also claims Abboud relied on provisions in Dick Smith's accounts to support the underlying operation's performance in the first few years. He was hoping, some argue, that he could build momentum in that time to sustain the operation's performance once these provisions were expended.
Anchorage Capital Partners emerged from its bunker on Friday to defend the performance of the retailer under its stewardship.
A spokesman said Anchorage managing director Phil Cave stayed on as chairman of Dick Smith for 12 months after its public listing in December 2013 to ensure continuity.
He said in December 2014 the company still held more than $95 million in cash and remained debt free.
Suppliers report that Dick Smith's buyers pushed them to bring forward anything that could support earnings, such as rebates for advertising or discounts on stock, in the past year.
Poor decisions led to failure
One industry insider compared the business to a house of cards.
"My view is a whole lot of bad decisions were made over two years and they came home to roost," he says.
The investment in private label stock limited Dick Smith's ability to buy branded products, and without the big-name brands on the shelves the shoppers stopped coming, he says.
"Nick drove that strategy."
Retail analysts trace Abboud's focus on private label back to his time at department store chain Myer and the influence of then chief Bernie Brookes, who also expanded Myer's selection of high-margin home-brand products.
Abboud spent almost two decades at Myer – another business floated out of private equity ownership – quitting his role as executive general manager of national store operations to lead Dick Smith for its new owner, Anchorage Capital Partners, in 2012.
Sympathisers say Abboud was hand-picked by veteran retailer and former Myer chairman Bill Wavish to lead Dick Smith and drive the operation's performance to beat the prospectus forecasts set out before the $520 million listing.
One industry insider was more unkind in his assessment of private equity's approach to installing a chief executive.
Share values smashed
Dick Smith shares were suspended at 35¢.
Unlike Abboud, who held on to his 6.5 per cent stake in Dick Smith, Anchorage sold its remaining 20 per cent interest in September 2014 at $2.22, crystallising a $370 million profit from its two-year investment in the business.
Abboud's financial interest in the business has plummeted from $34 million to about $5.4 million based on the share price before the business was put into receivership.
Former Retail Fusion Brands chief executive Don Grover stepped into the breach this week after Abboud fell on his sword just one week after receivers took control of Dick Smith and its debt of more than $400 million.
Ferrier Hodgson's decision not to honour gift cards just weeks after Christmas soured public opinion and angry card holders took to social media, demanding answers from Abboud.
Despite this anger the silence was resounding at the first creditors meeting in Sydney on Thursday, with no questions from the floor about Dick Smith's journey from unveiling a 3.1 per cent rise in full-year profit in mid-August 2015 to its debt-laden demise just five months later.