Society & Success

Ex-tesco executive’s times at troubled Nakumatt

Mr Andrew Dixon. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Mr Andrew Dixon. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Andrew Dixon, who until recently was Nakumatt’s chief marketing officer, chose Twitter as the medium through which to announce his departure from the struggling supermarket after just 11 months in office.

His tweet, “I actually do not work for Nakumatt anymore…”, was in response to a customer’s enquiry on whether they could redeem their loyalty points, now that the retailer was distributing photos of its employees restocking outlets.

Mr Dixon, a former executive of British retail chain Tesco, promptly followed up his response with a similar tweet to his 340 followers and later, with similar brevity, when this writer reached out to him for comment.

His announcement was unique on many fronts; Mr Dixon was not a man of few words – he always, on e-mail mostly, had something to say about Nakumatt’s problems and what it needed to do in order to survive the financial storm.

At some point, Nakumatt controlled a significant market share of Kenya’s retail sector with a new outlet opening every other month. The retailer seemed unstoppable.

However, when Mr Dixon joined Nakumatt in November 2016, according to his LinkedIn page, the rumour mills were running non-stop, with talk that all was not well at the regional retailer.

It would soon become public knowledge why Nakumatt, a business whose C-suite is mainly populated by relatives of chief executive and part-owner Atul Shah, was hiring an outsider.

Nakumatt also appointed Mr Manoj Warrier and Mr James Gakumo as the chief information officer and chief risk officer respectively.

“The new executives will be charged with the responsibility of reinvigorating the key dockets as the retailer seeks to scale new heights,” said Mr Shah said on January 19 when announcing the appointments.

Nakumatt was adopting a new “performance-based management strategy, geared at enhancing corporate governance and customer delivery excellence,” Mr Shah added.

Analysts speculated that the management changes were tied to a proposed sale of a 25 per cent stake of the business to the foreign investor for approximately Sh7.7 billion.

This transaction, which valued the business at Sh30.8 billion, never materialised.

During one of the few one-on-one interviews that he granted, Mr Dixon — who quickly assumed the role of Nakumatt spokesperson on matters transformation — seemed well appraised of the herculean task ahead of him.

“It’s what I call a perfect storm, where a series of events have come together to create the position that we’re in,” Mr Dixon told the AFP in an interview in August.

While people pointed to alleged mismanagement as well as loan-backed rapid expansion as some of the reasons behind Nakumatt’s rollback of fortunes, the marketing boss had his three-pronged theory.

The destruction of the retail chain’s flagship Westgate Mall outlet in September 2013 following the terrorist attack saw the business lose 10 per cent of its turnover.

Secondly, some of the shopping malls it had expanded into as anchor tenants did not perform to their expectation. Lastly, he asserted that an economic slowdown weakened customers’ purchasing power.

Despite this storm, he sought to paint an image of a company that had its heart in the right place. He dug in for the tough ride ahead with the faith that they would soon find its footing.

His personal Twitter handle (@Andrew_Dixon1) and his official one @Nakumatt_CMO — which has since been deleted — were replete with hopeful messages, especially when the retailer restocked its stores. “Nakumatt is not going down. Every business goes through challenging times and we are working hard to resolve matters. Keep the faith,” he tweeted on May 24.

“Sorry to burst your prophetic bubble, but thus far I don’t see it that way,” he told a Twitter user on June 14, pushing back on their forecast that Nakumatt Junction’s shelves would soon be empty.

But who exactly is Mr Dixon? Nothing much is known about his personal life. If the regular mention of “God” on Twitter is anything to go by, he may be a religious person.

One journalist who interacted with the bespectacled man had this to say; “He knew much more about Nakumatt than he let out. He talked generalities, never specifics. No numbers. Just theory. He was quite optimistic about the business.”

However, his professional profile on LinkedIn is a treasure trove of information, having worked for 15 different companies since September 1985 when he joined Procter & Gamble as a brand manager.

Over the past 32 years, Mr Dixon has served as a managing director for a beauty and cosmetics online retailer, a marketing director for a health and leisure group, position he also held at a German-based pharmaceutical company.

His most eminent employer, at least in the Nakumatt context, was Tesco Plc, the UK-based multinational retail chain. He joined the firm in 1993 as a marketing controller in charge of its health and beauty instore concept.

Over the nine years he worked for them, he held several positions in the retailer, the last one being the director of Clubcard, its customer loyalty programme and the largest in Europe.

According to his Twitter page, he had grand plans for the Nakumatt Global loyalty programme.

“Having run the Tesco Clubcard in the UK, we have some exciting plans for Nakumatt Global Card - watch this space,” he said, while debunking social media chitchat that Nakumatt was terminating its programme.