Lovisa poaches John Cheston from Smiggle

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Is it rabbit season or duck season? It’s certainly poaching season among the two biggest retail rag trader billionaires, Solomon Lew and Brett Blundy, who are scouring the retail landscape for prized executive scalps.

But it was Blundy who scored big this week, bagging Smiggle boss John Cheston, who isn’t just any old retail executive, but the man credited with the operational success of the kids’ stationery group controlled by Lew.

Brett Blundy and Solomon Lew are two of the country’s highest-profile retailing billionaires.Credit: Nic Walker, Eamon Gallagher

And how about that timing? Smiggle is on the cusp of its own separate listing, so losing the person who was to helm its progression to a standalone retailer was a particularly bad break for Lew.

Poaching Cheston feels more like a declaration of retail war.

Blundy isn’t a household name outside business circles, but is nonetheless one of the most successful retailers in the country, with wealth estimated at more than $3 billion. Over several decades, he has been behind many of the country’s best-known brands, such as Hype, Platypus, Adairs, The Athlete’s Foot, lingerie outfit Bras N Things, and discount clothing chain Best&Less.

He has now headhunted Cheston to run Lovisa – the value-end jewellery retailer which has found remarkable success lately under the stewardship of Victor Herrero. The outgoing Herrero hit the headlines last year after pocketing hefty performance-linked bonuses that made him the second highest-paid executive in Australia, with annual remuneration of nearly $30 million.

Poaching Cheston feels more like a declaration of retail war.

His package was way outside the bell curve, and made even more bizarre given Lovisa boasts a market capitalisation of only $3.9 billion.

Herrero’s pay deal was voted down three years running by minority shareholders but defended by Blundy. However, until Herrero departs in May next year, he will operate under a revised remuneration deal in which he will earn a base salary of $1.9 million with no short-term incentives.

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