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Australia's Blackmores hires China-focused boss to lead turnaround

[SYDNEY] Australian vitamin maker Blackmores Ltd hired Alastair Symington from embattled cosmetics-maker Coty Inc as its chief executive on Tuesday, as the China-focused firm seeks to revive sales growth after a consumer downturn.

Mr Symington, 46, was also appointed as managing director and joins the company following a profit plunge last quarter, the abrupt departure of his predecessor and as the share price hovers close to a four-year low.

Blackmores said it had settled on Mr Symington after a four-month search due to his experience in China - he previously lived in Shanghai where he studied Mandarin - and with similar consumer brands from Nestle SA to Procter & Gamble Co .

"We go and have our annual strategy meetings once or twice a year, we come up with all sorts of good ideas and things and then our execution is a bit average," Interim CEO Marcus Blackmore told Reuters by phone.

"I think he's focused on things like that ... a lot of those things that we're on the verge of he's already done."

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The Sydney-based company has been a casualty of the slowdown in Chinese consumer spending, a market where it posted double-digit annual sales growth until it was hammered by softening demand and new import rules.

Investors cautiously welcomed the new appointment, lifting Blackmores shares 1.9 per cent in early trade to their highest in about a week, while the broader market rose 0.4 per cent.

"If you look at his background and credentials and everything else it certainly appears to meet the criteria Blackmores said it was looking for," said Belinda Moore, an analyst who tracks the company at stockbroker Morgans.

"There's a lot of work to be done to turn around that business, but is the underlying brand a strong brand? Absolutely."

Mr Symington's most recent role, according to his LinkedIn profile, was senior vice president of Consumer Beauty at Coty, based in Dubai and responsible for profit and sales across Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East.

Supply chain problems pushed Coty's revenue below market expectations in the March quarter and on Monday it wrote down about US$3 billion in brands acquired from Procter & Gamble as sales continue to slide.

Mr Symington, a fitness enthusiast from Melbourne, begins his new job on Oct. 1.

"I am committed to delivering on the company's strategy to drive substantial top-line growth via a greater presence of Blackmores throughout the region," he said.


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