Woolworths CEO: The job Australians don't want

Troubled retail giant Woolworths is set to be run by a foreigner after a search for a local executive to head the chain came up empty-handed.

Masters pain still building for Woolies

Shareholders and the workforce are in for a rough time as Woolworths pulls the plug on its hardware chain Masters.

In surprisingly frank comments, Woolworths chairman Gordon Cairns has admitted he invited several Australians to consider the job to replace Grant O'Brien but none were interested in even interviewing for the role.

"I couldn't persuade any of the local candidates I had in mind to come for an interview and I suspect the ones I had in mind were doing outstandingly well in their own organisations and the thought of working for me probably wasn't very attractive," Mr Cairns told The Australian Financial Review.

Woolworths CEO Grant O'Brien's departure was announced last year but he has been kept on in the role in an interim ...
Woolworths CEO Grant O'Brien's departure was announced last year but he has been kept on in the role in an interim capacity that will see him collect a generous pension when he leaves in July. Photo: Chris Pearce

Mr O'Brien's departure was announced last year but he has been kept on in the role in an interim capacity that will see him collect a generous pension when he leaves in July.

That uncertainty has caused uneasiness in the market as Woolworths grapples with numerous challenges including a galloping supermarket rival in Coles and the disposal or closure of its failed hardware business Masters.

But Mr Cairns has now also told The Australian Financial Review that the search for a permanent chief executive could take longer than the the March deadline he had initially laid out.

"The board would absolutely prefer that we take our time and get the right candidate as opposed to rushing this and getting the wrong one," he said.

Woolworths chairman Gordon Cairns has not been able to find an Australian willing to run Woolworths.
Woolworths chairman Gordon Cairns has not been able to find an Australian willing to run Woolworths. Photo: Christopher Pearce

"I'm not going to apologise if we get to March and I'm saying: 'look give me another couple of months or so because we are nearly there'."

Mr Cairns hinted that he was not sugar-coating the difficulty of the job in his international search.

"If you are a European or a North American it is a big decision to come down here. I haven't dressed up the challenges facing our business," he said.

BusinessDay