Simon English: Home Retail chief Duddy needs a whiz to rescue him from the aggro at Argos
Friday 13 January 2012
Outlook The jibes from the City scribblers were fierce. Argos is little more than "a showroom for Amazon," quips Rahul Sharma of NeevCapital. "There's a growing chance of a "Woolworth-esque decline," jabs David Jeary at Investec.
How much of this sort of thing can a chief executive take?
Terry Duddy, the boss of Argos parent Home Retail Group, insists he isn't calling uncle yet. Investors, most notably the largest shareholder Schroders, are supportive, guide the flaks.
Even if this is true, there's no doubt their patience is being tested. The latest sales figures are awful. They can't keep falling at 9 per cent, Mr Duddy agrees, if he is going to keep his job.
A top priority is getting a new managing director for Argos, if only to shoulder some of the blame.
Mr Duddy is overworked, and it is possible to detect the strain down the phone line. "Can I just get back to running the business?" he asked.
Well, can he? He insists the company is positioned for the future, with soaring internet sales and a whizzy iPhone app.
Still, Argos looks and feels old-fashioned. As if Mr Duddy didn't move quickly enough when it mattered and is now struggling to play catch-up. This perception may be unfair, but it seems to have taken hold, at least in the Square Mile.
Perhaps the harsh truth is that it's not a matter of if he will go, but when.
So how about this: He appoints a brilliant whiz to revitalise Argos, gives the new man (or woman) cover for the next year. Makes a few tough, deeply unpopular decisions. Then bows out, not at the top, but at least with dignity intact.
It's a pity that it should be like this for the simple reason that Mr Duddy is a nice guy. He lacks pomposity. He answers questions directly. He can even take a joke (a rare quality in a chief executive). They don't give prizes for that sort of thing.
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