Iain Nairn appointed Hudson's Bay president after worldwide search

Hudson's Bay Co. appointed a little-known executive from abroad to lead the company's Hudson's Bay department store chain after a months-long global search.

The retailer announced Iain Nairn started as Hudson's Bay president Sunday.

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He takes over for Alison Coville, who stepped down in February 2019. At the time, the company did not give a reason for her departure.

Nairn comes to HBC from kikki.K, a global design and stationary business where he served as CEO.

Prior to that he worked as the chief executive of David Jones, an Australian department store chain founded in 1838. He worked there for a year and a half, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Both previous positions were based in Australia.

"It's my first role in Canada," said Nairn, who moved to Toronto before starting the new role. He likened the Toronto atmosphere to that in Australia, saying the people are open and personable.

HBC chief executive Helena Foulkes views Nairn's life abroad — he grew up in the United Kingdom and lived for about the last 15 years in Australia —as a strength.

"I am excited that he brings a really global perspective," she said.

The company took its time searching for Coville's replacement, said Foulkes.

"We looked across the globe. We were looking at leaders from many different countries, but also many different backgrounds. We looked at digital native type leaders, specialty store leaders. We didn't really have any preconceived notions of what we were looking for," she said, adding that Nairn "gets" the brand.

She said he has a strong leadership quality with high energy and is a great listener.

"All of those are things you don't see on a resume, but at the end of the day were the differentiators for us as we made this decision to bring him on board."

Nairn said he's been exposed to department stores since the beginning of his career and is excited to build on the work the HBC team has done so far.

"I think they've done a great job to date, to be honest," he said, outlining work on the company's e-commerce platform.

During the company's last quarterly earnings call, Foulkes said the company has been focused on fixing fundamentals in this area, including site speed and streamlining the checkout process.

Nairn joins the company as HBC looks to complete a privatization deal.

Earlier this month, the company announced it entered into a deal with a group led by executive chairman Richard Baker to take the company private for $11 per share. The amended offer is $1.55 higher than the group's initial $9.45 per share bid.

The amended offer also won the approval of dissident shareholder Catalyst Capital Group Inc., which controls about 17.5 per cent of the company's common shares. It entered into a voting and support agreement with HBC and the continuing shareholders behind the bid. Catalyst retains the right to withdraw its support under certain circumstances.

Nairn said whether the company remains public or becomes private doesn't make much of a difference to his role.

The strategy will remain the strategy, he said.

Foulkes agreed the go private deal likely won't have much of an impact on Nairn.

"If anything, he won't have the pressure of quarterly earnings and can really focus his team on what are the right moves for the long run."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2020.

— With files from Tara Deschamps

Companies in this story: (TSX:HBC)

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