Chemist Warehouse backs former Pharmacy Guild national president in controversial Blackmores board bid, joining Marcus Blackmore in recommending his election
Retail pharmacy giant Chemist Warehouse and Blackmores’ biggest shareholder, Marcus Blackmore, are standing behind former Pharmacy Guild president George Tambassis over his bid to get on the Blackmores board.
Mr Tambassis has submitted a nomination for election as a non-executive director, but according to Blackmores’ Annual General Meeting notice, chair Anne Templeman-Jones urged shareholders to vote against his bid.
“Having considered Mr Tambassis’ skills and experience, along with the other factors … the Board has recommended that shareholders vote against his election,” she said in the notice.
Mr Blackmore disagreed this approach, telling The Australian on Friday that the board was becoming “overrun by governance”.
“I’m not saying that’s the wrong thing but it cannot come at the expense of innovation and entrepreneurship,” he said.
“Blackmores is a fairly unique sort of business. We sell supplements, we sell health, and I want to make sure there is someone on the board who is actually a healthcare professional – and that’s what George Tambassis is.”
Mr Blackmore, who stepped down from the Blackmores board last October after serving on it since 1973, added: “I don’t have any doubt that George would be a fantastic director. Seventy-five per cent of Blackmores’s business in Australia is done through pharmacy.
“He can help us with the whole regulatory environment, and one of our biggest challenges is always the regulator and he’s an expert in this space. I think he will change the game for us.
“I’m not going to tell the board who they should have on the board but I am going to make recommendations to them, based on my experiences.”
Chemist Warehouse director Mario Tascone agreed with Mr Blackmore, telling AJP that “as Blackmores’ biggest customer”, he shares the same frustrations that the company “has really lost its way”.
“There’s no innovation there, nothing happening there, no one with a real sense of the retail world, in particular retail pharmacy, and there’s no surprise to me there’s competitors popping up left right and centre to take the mantle off Blackmores and its strength and market share in pharmacy,” Mr Tascone said.
“It needs a real retail pharmacy focus and so I’d welcome someone like George on the board, that’s coming from me, their biggest customer.”
Blackmores has had a “horror” 12 months and adding a leading pharmacist proprietor to the board could help revive their main business, he argued.
The company’s most recent annual report revealed Australia and New Zealand revenue was down 14%, with sales impacted by a reduction in retail foot traffic and sales from international students and visitors—also leading to a decline in the Daigou trade.
“They had their gravy train which was China … but through that process I believe they really took their eyes off the local market and now that that gravy train has gone, it’s really exposed the underbelly of a business that’s pretty flat,” Mr Tascone told the AJP.
“I really think they need to get back to basics and get someone who understands retail today and retail pharmacy because that’s where most of its revenue comes from.
“George performs well at the corporate level, he’s got really good experience here from his time at the Guild.
“But at the end of the day he’s a bit like us. He’s a hard-core retailer, he learned his trade on the shop floor, not from an MBA but working on the pharmacy shop front.
“I think the current people at Blackmores, you couldn’t get further from reality of what’s going on the shop floor from their facility. We’ve got a great working relationship with George, it’d be great to have him on the Blackmores board, together with him we could easily turn around their fortunes pretty quickly.”
Mr Tambassis, who spent more than seven years at the helm of the Pharmacy Guild, has taken on several roles after stepping down from the top job earlier this year.
In June he joined the API board as a non-executive director, and this Thursday it was announced that he was the new chair of the Australian Association of Consultant Pharmacy.
Mr Tambassis has also taken on a consultancy role at Arrotex Pharmaceuticals and a non-executive director role at Kings Transport & Logistics.
Blackmores’ AGM, where his nomination will be considered by the shareholders, is set to be held virtually on 27 October.
When approached for comment, a Blackmores spokesperson told AJP: “It’s a matter for Blackmores shareholders.”