Harvey Norman's Irish unit posts €11m in losses
Retailer drafts in new chief to help boost its performance
AUSTRALIAN electrical and household retailer Harvey Norman has sought to beef up its Irish management team as the business continues to struggle through the recession, posting a A$17m (€11.2m) trading loss in the six months to the end of December.
The Irish unit of Harvey Norman -- which rarely communicates any operational details regarding the business here -- said yesterday that the head of the group's Slovenian operation, Blaine Callard, had been drafted in to take up a newly created chief executive role in Ireland.
The company has a chain of 16 stores in Ireland, two of which are in the North.
Mr Callard, who has been with Harvey Norman since he left university in 1995, will face considerable challenges steering the chain back to profitability in Ireland.
Releasing strong interim results yesterday in Australia, Harvey Norman predicted no major improvement in store performance in Ireland in the near future.
Chairman and founder Gerry Harvey said yesterday he was "hoping and praying" that the Irish operation's performance improved.
The A$17m loss for the six months to the end of December comes on top of a A$20m loss incurred in Ireland during the comparable period in 2008. The company reported a A$76.6m (then €45m) loss in the last financial year for its Irish operations, which included a A$27.3m (then €16m) impairment expense.
Mr Callard headed the group's Slovenian operation since 2006. That unit is about one-quarter the size of the Irish arm in terms of sales value.
In a statement yesterday, Mr Callard said Harvey Norman remained committed to Ireland, where it employed about 800 people.
"When our machine fires on all cylinders, we are competitive and profitable. It's that simple."
He added that Harvey Norman "is not going anywhere" and is taking a long-term view of the Irish market.
"Out sales are encouraging in difficult times," he said, claiming that the business was taking "big chunks" of market share.
The Irish unit posted a 2pc rise in revenue for the interim period to December to €75.3m, while the Harvey Norman group reported an overall 60pc rise in first-half profit to A$159m (€104m).
Last year, a Harvey Norman holding unit based in Australia injected about €8m into the Irish business, which has only made an annual profit once in the seven years it has had a presence here.
Mr Callard was paid A$941,000 (then €539,000) by Harvey Norman in the 2009 financial year, including a base salary of A$650,000 and A$168,000 bonus.
Other senior members of the Irish management team -- Greg Scott, who is general manager of the electrical side, and John Elmasri, who is in charge of bedding and furniture -- were paid A$716,000 (€410,000) and A$693,000 (€397,000) respectively for the 2009 financial year.
The three men are among the highest-paid executives in the Harvey Norman group. Mr Callard was even paid more last year than the group chief financial officer, Chris Mentis.