MERCHANT'S MAN RISES IN BILLABONG RANKS

Written on the 7 January 2016 by Nick Nichols

MERCHANT'S MAN RISES IN BILLABONG RANKS

BILLABONG International (ASX:BBG) has elevated one of Gordon Merchant's longest-serving insiders to a key US role, as the surfwear giant announced the looming departure of Americas president Ed Leasure (pictured right).

The company's global brand president Shannan North has been named head of Billabong's retail operations in the US in a major reshuffle as the company moves to fill the void that will be left by Leasure.

North, who was hired by Merchant in 1993 when the company was still under private control, has held a number of senior roles with the company over the past decade, including general manager of Asia Pacific since 2004.

He was appointed brand president almost two years ago as the company began implementing the then new CEO Neil Fiske's turnaround strategy which involved divestment of a host of businesses and brands, including SurfStitch and West 49. He retains the role of brand president despite the new title.

North, who has been based in the US for the past two years, could not be contacted for further comment.

In a statement to the ASX, Fiske (pictured left) announced that Leasure will leave Billabong at the end of January, ending 40 years in the action sports industry and nine years with Billabong.

Leasure was appointed by Fiske following the departure of long-time US president Paul Naude who led a failed private equity-backed buyout bid for Billabong in 2013.

Leasure's experience in the surfing industry stretches almost as far back as Merchant's who co-founded Billabong in 1973. Leasure started a chain of surf stores in 1979 with his brother after making surfboards in their garage at Cocoa Beach in Florida.

Leasure took on senior roles at Billabong in 2008 when the company bought his chain of Quiet Flight stores.

"On accepting the role as Billabong CEO in 2013, I asked Ed to take on the challenge of rebuilding our Americas team and operations after a period of significant organisational turmoil and he's done a terrific job," says Fiske.

"Ed is a pioneer and one of the best surf retailers in the business. Widely respected and admired in the industry, he brought credibility and expertise to the Americas region at a critical time.

"His leadership has been pivotal in the resurgence of our brands and the strengthening of our position in the core market."

Leasure plans to take time out from business once he leaves the company, but will remain a consultant and ambassador for Billabong.

"After getting into the business to surf more, I'm now stepping back from the business to surf more," he says.

"Billabong is in good hands and we now have the best team on the field. Knowing this has made my decision a little easier, and I feel very fortunate to have been part of such a great organisation."

Fiske says the planned transition has been in the pipeline for some time, with the new appointments expected to fill the void.

It appears Billabong does not plan to appoint a new president for the Americas, with North taking care of retail operations.

Wholesale operations will be handled by the respective brand leaders of the company's core brands, Billabong, Element, RVCA, Von Zipper, Sector 9 and Xcel.

Jeremy Hale, the vice-president of international development, will oversee emerging markets.

"In many ways it is the logical evolution of the organisation we have been building," says Fiske.

"Our investment in global brands and leadership means we now have in place a depth and breadth of executive expertise in the Americas to put in place an operating structure best suited for the opportunities of that market."

Billabong shares slipped as low as $2.03 today in a broadly weaker market.


Author: Nick Nichols

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