Very Group hires Desclée as CEO ahead of £4bn IPO

Lionel Desclée

Liverpool-based online retail and financial services firm The Very Group said on Tuesday it has appointed Lionel Desclée, former president and CEO of Walmart Japan, as its group CEO.

The Very Group, operator of digital retailers Very and Littlewoods, said Desclée will join on September 19, 2022, and that current group CEO Henry Birch will step down on September 24 after four and a half years in the role.

The Very Group owners the Barclay family recently brought back plans to float the online retailer on the stock market for up to £4 billion.

“Lionel will join The Very Group from McKinsey & Company, where he is a senior advisor,” said The Very Group.

“He previously spent three years as president and CEO of Walmart in Japan, where he led a 35,000-strong team at Seiyu, the Japanese supermarket business with a significant food and non-food presence.

“Under Lionel’s stewardship, Seiyu accelerated its move into digital through a joint venture with online retailer Rakuten, secured record-breaking colleague engagement, grew customer satisfaction and increased market share.

“He led Walmart’s subsequent partial exit from Seiyu to investor KKR and Rakuten.

“Before joining Walmart, Lionel spent three years as president and CEO of Tom & Co, which operates over 160 pet care stores in Belgium, Luxembourg and France.

“Having led the management buyout of the business from Delhaize Group, Lionel increased the company’s digital offering, enhanced profitability and launched new store concepts.

“Between 2005 and 2016, Lionel held a number of senior roles at global retail business Delhaize Group, with responsibility for 750 franchised or affiliated stores in Belgium and Luxembourg and more than 1,600 supermarkets on the US East Coast.

“While in the US, he also led finance and business planning for six retail brands including Food Lion, Hannaford and Bottom Dollar Food.

“Lionel is a non-executive board member at both Tom & Co and BPost, the Belgian company responsible for the delivery of national and international mail, where he also chairs the company’s strategy committee.

“Originally from Belgium, Lionel is fluent in English, French and Dutch.”

The Very Group said that under Henry Birch’s leadership, it broke the £2bn sales mark for the first time in 2020 and, in 2021, delivered record revenue and EBITDA.

“Having joined in 2018, Henry has helped to transform the group, including implementing a rebrand, launching its highly automated fulfilment centre in the East Midlands, making its AI-powered chatbot the most popular customer service channel, and successfully navigating the pandemic,” said the firm.

“This culminated in The Very Group being named ‘Best Retailer of the Year’ (over £250m) and ‘Best Place to Work’ in the 2022 Retail Week Awards.”

Desclée said: “I am delighted to be appointed CEO of The Very Group.

“The company has a rich history of transformation and an even more exciting future supporting families in the UK and Ireland with amazing brands, flexible payment options and a simple customer experience.

“I can’t wait to start working with the team to further strengthen the convenience, flexibility and value Very provides, whilst exploring new products and services to support our customers.”

The Very Group’ chairman Dirk Van den Berghe said: “Lionel is a highly respected leader with a wealth of global experience across digital and both food and non-food omnichannel retail.

“He has a proven track record of achieving growth through transformation and operational excellence, developing and coaching world-class teams, and helping companies become even more customer-centric.

“I am confident that Lionel’s collaborative and strategic approach will prove invaluable as The Very Group further develops its proposition, having successfully navigated the pandemic.

“Henry has guided the group superbly over the last four and a half years. He is a dedicated, innovative and people-oriented leader, and he leaves a fantastic legacy.

“When he heads off to take on his next challenge later this year, it will be with our very best wishes.”