Clicks chief executive David Kneale is stepping down after 13 years. File Photo: IOL

JOHANNESBURG – Clicks chief executive David Kneale is stepping down after 13 years, marking the end of an era at the pharmacy, health and beauty retailer.

Kneale has been credited with growing the 50-year-old Clicks group, which includes brands such as GNC, The Body Shop, Claire’s and Musica.

He will retire on January 1 and take on the responsibly of being a strategic adviser to the group until August next year while he serves his notice period, the Clicks Group said on Friday.

Clicks chairperson, David Nurek, said Kneale was an exceptional leader who had spearheaded the strong growth in the company's core markets.

“Under his leadership the group has delivered superior returns to shareholders and seen the market capitalisation grow to R50billion, with the group recently joining the FTSE/JSE Top 40 Index,” said Nurek.

Nurek said Kneale had built a strong executive leadership team capable of sustaining the company's commercial success.

The company also announced the appointment of current chief operating officer, Vikesh Ramsunder, as Kneale's successor.

The share price declined by 1.28 percent to trade at R179.17 a share on the news, as a tip of the hat to Kneale's leadership, analysts said.

Ron Klipin, an investment analyst at Cratos Wealth, said Kneale had turned things around for the retailer by bringing in expertise and demonstrating leadership in a competitive environment.

“He has done an incredible job if you look at the share price over the past two years. He has turned things around in terms of marketing, and the roll-out of stores,” said Klipin, adding that he also helped beef up the retailer’s store format.

“The format of the stores speak to the needs of customers. For example, women want beauty products in the front of the stores and people can get their prescriptions at the back of stores.”

Kneale worked in retail for 42 years and was appointed Clicks chief executive in 2006. He was previously chief commercial officer of Boots Group, the UK's health and beauty retailer.

An analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity said Kneale took the business to a new level.

“He generated returns for shareholders and his predecessor will have big shoes to fill,” he said.

Clicks, which is valued at R21 billion, has been on a growth path. In its half-year to February, it turned in a 12.2 percent rise in operating profit to R942 million, a 14.8 percent rise in headline earnings per share and a 16.5 percent rise in its interim dividend.

It also announced plans to open 40 new stores this year, and had grown its store footprint to 646 and opened 24 stores in the six months to February.

About 70 percent of the group's shares are held by international investors, as the chain offers world-class operating margins with capacity for organic growth, the company has previously said. Clicks has been able to attract customers through the Cashback rewards programme and has 7.5 million active ClubCard members.

Clicks shares closed 0.37 percent lower at R180.82 on the JSE on Friday.