Kerryman appointed CEO of major Russian grocery chain
One of Russia's top grocery chains, O'Key Group, has appointed Kerry-born retail guru Tony Maher as its chief executive.
Based in St Petersburg, where it was founded just over a decade ago, O'Key group operates close to 100 hypermarkets and supermarkets across 22 Russian cities and had sales last year of $4bn (€2.9bn).
From Faha in Killarney, Mr Maher (57) was chief executive of Russian retailer Wimm-Bill-Dann (WBD) between 2006 and 2011.
WBD was the first Russian company to sell branded goods. It sells fruit juice, baby food and dairy products.
Mr Maher souped up its marketing and the business was sold in 2011 to Pepsi for $5.8bn. Mr Maher was instrumental in negotiating the deal with Pepsi.
O'Key Group said that Mr Maher will replace Patrick Longuet, who has served as its CEO since 2007.
Mr Maher said he was "delighted" to be joining O'Key and said that he looked forward to helping it achieve "many new milestones".
The group is listed on the London Stock Exchange, having floated in late 2010, and has a market capitalisation of €2.8bn.
The company is 54pc-owned by Russian billionaire businessmen Dmity Jorzhev and Dmitry Troitsky, who founded it in 2001.
They've been working together since the early 1990s, when they were still students.
Last week, O'Key said 2013 sales rose 19pc to $4bn. That increase was at the bottom end of guidance. The company has forecast that revenue growth this year will not beat that of 2013, citing poor consumer confidence in Russia.
O'Key's head of investor relations, Maksim Kravtsov, said that the company's sales during December had seen its customers buy fewer items.
That trend had continued this month.
"You cannot call it exactly a trading-down tendency but definitely people were not consuming more," he said.
O'Key's revenue is expected to rise by between 15pc and 19pc this year as it increases its selling space by 20pc.
Mr Maher, who started his career in 1975 with Coca-Cola and went on to have a senior role with the group, will have a challenge ahead to boost O'Key's like-for-like trading figures if consumers are tightening their purse strings.
But O'Key could also attract interest from foreign buyers. Last year, Mr Longuet predicted that US retail giant Wal-Mart could be potentially interested in acquiring O'Key if it decided to enter the Russian market.