Why would an Australian who is nearing retirement age come all the way to SA to be CEO of Edcon, a company that could have gone bust?
"It’s the challenge," says Bernie Brookes, who has just taken a long-term lease on an apartment in Sandton.
His wife is still in Australia, with four grandchildren under the age of five, so she stays there and commutes out occasionally.
Brookes says of Edcon:
"The brand is so well known, I just really want to fix the business.
"The brand has a great heritage but they’ve made some bad strategic decisions."
His honesty about Edcon’s dire position is refreshing.
But he also has high praise for retail in SA. So who does he rate as the best?
"I rate Truworths as probably understanding their market well. I rate Mr Price as knowing their price focus. I rate Woolworths in food — I think they’re OK in general merchandise. You go into their stores, it seems as if they might be changing things a little. Generally, South Africans know how to retail.
"They’re very, very good."
As a retailer, Brookes is also well aware of the threat of digital ordering. To pre-empt this, Edcon will launch an Edgars online store and a Jet online site before Christmas. It recently launched a digital division to do digital marketing, online buying (with a "click-and-collect" option) and revamp the 12m member loyalty programme.
"That’s what every other retailer has done around the world. Mr Price does a good job with the website, Woolworths does OK, but no-one really stands out online," he says.
Brookes believes online retail could soon explode in SA "as the price of airtime goes down, Wi-Fi becomes more accessible and fibre becomes more available".
Edcon, having missed most other trends this decade, doesn’t want to miss this one.