David Jones’ new boss is no stranger to the enormous task of leading a venerable department store into battle against retail rivals.


John Dixon spent more than a quarter of a century at Britain’s famous department store Marks & Spencer, most recently as the head of general merchandise.

After missing out on his dream job of running the British retail institution, he quit in July and has now emerged as the new boss of David Jones.

IG market strategist Evan Lucas said Mr Dixon has extensive experience in discretionary retail, but had a tough time lifting sluggish sales at M&S.

“He has had an interesting period as the head of general merchandise and it’s not the best turnaround story,” Mr Lucas told AAP on Thursday.

Retail experts have criticised M&S for having too many clothing lines and different product categories which confuse shoppers.

Mr Dixon headed M&S general merchandise for three years but struggled to lift sales, with younger shoppers shunning the department store in favour of high street rivals including Primark and Next.

He is due to begin work at David Jones in January, replacing Ian Nairn who suddenly resigned on Wednesday after just 14 months in the top job at Australia’s oldest department store chain.

Little detail is known about the reasons behind Mr Nairn’s departure, with the departing chief executive citing “personal reasons”.

But it appears the leadership shake-up at David Jones has been in the works since July, when Mr Dixon quit M&S.

“I now have the opportunity to become a chief executive and have therefore resigned from this great company,” Mr Dixon said in a statement on July 16.

Mr Nairn’s departure comes despite a significant improvement in sales at David Jones under his tenure, which began when the company was bought by South Africa’s Woolworths Holdings in August 2014.

By contrast, general merchandise like-for-like sales at M&S fell 3.1 per cent in Mr Dixon’s last full year in the job.

He had been touted to be the next chief executive at M&S once Marc Bolland steps aside.

However retail watchers in the UK believe the head of M&S’s food division Steve Rowe had recently become the more favoured choice for the top job.

Mr Dixon said he felt excited and privileged to be taking on his new role at David Jones.

“It’s a substantial business in its own right and lies at the heart of Australian society,” he said.

David Jones is on a mission to simplify its offerings and is shedding almost 200 of its 2,500 brands across fashion, beauty and homewares.

Its sales soared 10.7 per cent in the 11 months to June 15.

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