Staples under new management

Darren Fullerton

Staples CEO Darren Fullerton.

STATIONERY NEWS: Firstly, can you tell us about your time at PepsiCo and some of the highlights of your relatively long association with that company?
DARREN FULLERTON: I spent 18 years at PepsiCo Australia and New Zealand in a variety of sales and commercial roles on both the snacks and beverages sides of the business which culminated in a three-year stint as the CEO.
Playing my part in the rapid growth of the snacks business through the 2000s, to the consistent share growth for Pepsi Max and the creation of hugely successful brands such as Red Rock Deli are obvious highlights.
I loved the fact that I got to work with extremely talented people that exhibited great passion for the business, the brands and the company’s values. I must say there is a familiar feel here at Staples.
I was proud too of the part I played at PepsiCo on the diversity and inclusion agenda as well as the development of a strong health and safety culture.
STN: While you’ve only been in the job for a short period, have you detected any notable differences or similarities between the office products supply market and the packaged goods industry?
DF: There are many parallels and, of course, some obvious differences.
A common theme is the need to get closer to the customer, to drive true strategic partnerships and ensure that the whole organisation becomes ‘customer centric’.
These were focus areas in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) world and it’s no different in this industry.
I would say an obvious difference is the sales model.
I have been very impressed by the calibre and approach of sales people here at Staples.
There is an incredible depth of expertise in key areas. I guess in CPG there is no shortage of talent but the skill-set and approach in sales are very different.
The make-up of customers is also very different and securing and maintaining business is a much higher involvement process in this industry. It is a change I am thoroughly enjoying.
STN: Recent personnel changes at Staples, including the departure of vice-president of merchandising Nick Severino, have come at a time of on-going uncertainty due to the Office Depot/OfficeMax deal. How has the company managed the situation in terms of keeping staff and customers ‘in the loop’ and maintaining a business-as-usual approach?
DF: Under my predecessor’s leadership there was a clear focus on building the business without any expectation that the acquisition would go ahead.
I can see the wisdom in that approach. The business remains undistracted by the potential deal that may or may not occur between Staples and OfficeMax and the annual and strategic plans reflect that well.
Nick’s departure and a couple of other people’s moves have meant great opportunities for others, including Hilda Sung, who has taken over as vice-president of merchandising and joined the executive leadership team.
That, coupled with the additions of impressive leaders in finance (Dave Hughson) and sales (Tim Sleep), means we have a very strong executive leadership team in place.
It is also a team that is bringing new thinking and new energy to the business.
We showcased that at the recent leadership conference in Sydney and the feedback was tremendous.
I sense an improving level of confidence in the business, clarity of purpose, and energy.
STN: Can you reveal any ‘advice’ that your predecessor Jay Mutschler may have imparted prior to his return to the US?
DF: I was blessed to have spent time with Jay prior to starting and for two weeks after I started. He shared many views, pointed me in the direction of some areas to look harder at and challenge and gave me a great insight into key customer relationships, including some of the important history.
Rather than too much “advice”, he gave me good confidence in the business model, the team and the future. My experiences here in the first two months have only added to my confidence in the business.
STN: What do you see as your priorities
for taking Staples forward over the next
year or two?
DF: A key observation from early on was that we have many more opportunities than time and resources can accommodate. That is a great situation to have.
The key, however, which is well underway, will be to clarify for the organisation the big focus areas and ensure we invest behind those and lead them to a bright future.
There is also an opportunity now to be more strategic in our thinking and planning, and really look to set the business up for long-term sustainable success. Driving an ‘all of company’ customer experience strategy will be paramount.
Another key focus for Staples over the next few years will be strengthening our commitment to diversity and inclusion. I believe that a diverse and inclusive culture is the key to sustainable and innovative growth and we aim to be recognised as a leader in diversity by living our core values and continuing to foster a respectful and inclusive environment for all employees.
STN: Finally, your CV includes mention of a brief stint as a marketing executive with the Cronulla Sharks Rugby League Football Club – was this a purely professional assignment or are you a die-hard Sharkies fan?
DF: As a young man in my twenties I was enticed into the world of sports marketing but quickly learned that it lacked the stimulation that I certainly need as a
business executive.
I don’t regret the step because I did learn some valuable things and I have made many friends through that experience.
I will, however, admit to being a Sharks fan, so if nothing else resilience is an attribute!