O’NEILL DIDN’T DESERVE BILLABONG DUMPING SAYS RIVAL SURFWEAR BOSS

Written on the 4 October 2012

O’NEILL DIDN’T DESERVE BILLABONG DUMPING SAYS RIVAL SURFWEAR BOSS

FORMER Billabong executive Dougall Walker has broken the silence surrounding the departure of the long-serving company’s CEO Derek O’Neill (pictured) earlier this year.

Walker today slammed the Billabong board for replacing O’Neill and says his abrupt axing failed to take into consideration the effort O’Neill had put into the surfwear company.

“Whether it was the right or wrong decision … the way they handled it was very bad,” says Walker, who rose to general manager (Australasia) during an 18-year career at Billabong.

O’Neill was shown the door in May after the once market-leading company saw its share price plunge as Billabong headed towards its first loss ($276.6 million) since listing in 2001.

It now faces a possible takeover bid from Boston-based equity firm TPG.

Confidentiality agreements have muted any comment from Billabong or O’Neill over his departure. Within days, Billabong appointed former Target executive Launa Inman as its new CEO. Inman had been recruited only months earlier as a “consultant’’.

Walker believes the board planned to promote Inman to the top job from the outset and says, as a result, any opportunity O’Neill had of turning around the company’s fortunes was undermined.

“A guy who put that amount of effort into the company did not deserve to be treated like that,’’ says Walker.

“At the end of the day, he did nothing wrong – [but] it was wrong the way [the Billabong board] went about it.”

Billabong responded to Walker's views in a statement this afternoon.

"Billabong is a company that respects its past but is very much focused on the future," says a company spokesman.

Walker retired from Billabong in 2006, but re-entered the workforce early last year as the Australian head of rival surf apparel company Volcom. He was in Coolangatta today opening a flagship Volcom retail store.

Volcom is owned by publicly-listed French company PPR, although a single family holds about 40 per cent of shares, much larger than founder Gordon Merchant’s 16 per cent majority holding at Billabong.

“PPR is much larger than the Billabong Group, but under far less scrutiny,” says Walker.

Walker says private ownership could benefit the beleaguered Billabong.

“I believe the process they are going through now, there is no question the company will be acquired and I think that would be an extremely good thing for the company,” he says.

“It will give the company the freedom to run its business the way it should be run: As a business, not a corporation.”


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