Liverpool retailers announce senior boardroom changes

Lionel Desclée

Liverpool-based online retail giant, The Very Group, has announced the departure of chief executive, Henry Birch, in September this year.

He will be replaced by Lionel Desclée, former president and CEO of Walmart Japan, and currently senior advisor with McKinsey & Company.

Mr Desclée will join on September 19, and Mr Birch will step down on September 24.

Very, the operator of multicategory digital retailers Very and Littlewoods, said Mr Desclée led a 35,000-strong team at Seiyu, the Japanese supermarket business with a significant food and non-food presence.

Under his stewardship, Seiyu accelerated its move into digital through a joint venture with online retailer Rakuten, secured record-breaking colleague engagement, grew customer satisfaction and increased market share. He led Walmart’s subsequent partial exit from Seiyu to investor KKR and Rakuten.

Before joining Walmart, he spent three years as president and CEO of Tom & Co, which operates more than 160 pet care stores in Belgium, Luxembourg and France. Having led the management buyout of the business from Delhaize Group, he increased the company’s digital offering, enhanced profitability and launched new store concepts.

Between 2005 and 2016, Mr Desclée held a number of senior roles at global retail business Delhaize Group, with responsibility for 750 franchised or affiliated stores in Belgium and Luxembourg and more than 1,600 supermarkets on the US East Coast. While in the US, he also led finance and business planning for six retail brands including Food Lion, Hannaford and Bottom Dollar Food.

He is a non-executive board member at both Tom & Co and BPost, the Belgian company responsible for the delivery of national and international mail, where he also chairs the company’s strategy committee. Originally from Belgium, he is fluent in English, French and Dutch.

Under Henry Birch’s leadership, The Very Group broke the £2bn-sales mark for the first time in 2020 and, in 2021, delivered record revenue and EBITDA. Having joined in 2018, he has helped to transform the group, including implementing a rebrand, launching its highly automated fulfilment centre in the East Midlands, making its AI-powered chatbot the most popular customer service channel, and successfully navigating the pandemic.

This culminated in The Very Group being named ‘Best Retailer of the Year’ (over £250m) and ‘Best Place to Work’ in the 2022 Retail Week Awards.

Lionel Desclée said: “The company has a rich history of transformation and an even more exciting future supporting families in the UK and Ireland with amazing brands, flexible payment options and a simple customer experience. I can’t wait to start working with the team to further strengthen the convenience, flexibility and value Very provides, whilst exploring new products and services to support our customers.”

Henry Birch said: “It has been a privilege to lead this amazing and committed team through such an important chapter in the company’s development. As I move onto my next challenge, I am proud of the progress we have made together for our customers and our people.

“I am confident that under Lionel’s leadership, The Very Group will continue to thrive in the years ahead.”

Dirk Van den Berghe, The Very Group’s chairman, said: “Lionel is a highly respected leader with a wealth of global experience across digital and both food and non-food omnichannel retail. He has a proven track record of achieving growth through transformation and operational excellence, developing and coaching world class teams, and helping companies become even more customer-centric.

“I am confident that Lionel’s collaborative and strategic approach will prove invaluable as The Very Group further develops its proposition, having successfully navigated the pandemic.

“Henry has guided the group superbly over the last four and a half years. He is a dedicated, innovative and people-oriented leader, and he leaves a fantastic legacy. When he heads off to take on his next challenge later this year, it will be with our very best wishes.”

Another Liverpool retailer has also announced a change in senior leadership today.

B&M European Value Retail, a neighbour of The Very Group in the Speke area of South Liverpool, said Mike Schmidt will be appointed as an executive director and chief financial officer of the group. He will join on a mutually agreed start date to be announced shortly and which is expected to be no later than January 3, 2023.

Mike is currently executive director and group CFO of DFS Furniture, having been in that role for the past three years. He initially joined the business in March 2014 as a senior member of the finance team, later becoming chief development officer.

Prior to joining DFS, Mike spent 13 years in corporate finance roles at leading investment banks including Citi and UBS, where he gained experience advising a wide range of consumer focused companies.

Mike will succeed Alex Russo as group CFO, who will be stepping up to group chief executive, as previously announced on May 31, 2022.

Chairman, Peter Bamford, said: “I am delighted that Mike has agreed to join B&M as group CFO. His previous roles in both retail and investment banking will bring valuable experience and insight to the board alongside the continuity provided by Alex Russo’s appointment as future CEO. I look forward to working closely with Mike over the coming years.”

Mike Schmidt, said: “I am excited by the opportunity to join B&M. It is a business that has experienced a period of rapid growth over recent years and has a clearly defined growth strategy for the future. I am very much looking forward to contributing to its ongoing success.”

He will receive a base salary of £450,000 per annum. He will also receive pension payments (cash allowance or contribution) equal to three per cent of base salary, plus other standard contractual benefits.

Mr Schmidt will also be eligible for participation in the B&M Annual Incentive Plan with a maximum bonus opportunity per annum of 150% of base salary.