David Jones CEO Paul Zahra has announced he will be leaving the upmarket department store for “personal reasons” after three years in the position that had left him feeling “simply tired” from leading a digital overhaul of the flagship business.
The Melbourne-born son of Maltese immigrants, Zahra took on the job in mid-2010, following a sexual harassment scandal that engulfed the company’s previous chief executive, Mark McInnes, and led to his demise.
The 47-year-old, who has been with David Jones for 15 years in a range of executive and management roles, will now stay on with the company until a successor can be found.
Only a few days before the shock announcement of his departure, the openly gay business man was at the launch of the Pinnacle Foundation’s latest round of scholarships to young, disadvantaged LGBTI people as its guest of honour.
At the event held inside the Pyrmont offices of Accenture on October 16, Zahra told the audience that his career and sense of self dramatically improved when he made the conscious decision to “just be himself” and come out as gay to co-workers upon joining David Jones and moving to Sydney.
“You need to believe in yourself, to never give up ever and believe that you can be as successful as anybody else regardless of your sexuality,” Zahra said.
“Often a lot of the issues we perceive others to have of our sexuality are in our own head and that plays a part in limiting your ability.
“I never imagined myself to be the CEO of a publicly listed company like David Jones. What I did realise though was that I had wanted to be the best that I could possibly be and I think I and others have shown that sexuality doesn’t matter.”
Zahra also paid tribute to his longterm partner, who he has been with for over two decades, for providing much support and wisdom throughout the years they have been together.
“My partner has become more of a confidante and a listening ear and probably the biggest coach for me in many ways for helping me get through a lot of the issues that I face in the workplace,” he said.
David Jones chairman Peter Mason said Zahra will leave David Jones in a solid financial position and well-placed to face the changing retail landscape thanks to the digital omni-channel investment Zahra led.
“I thank him for his contribution as CEO,” Mason said. “I look forward to working with Paul to ensure a smooth transition of his role to his successor.”
In a major interview with Fairfax Media only a month ago, Zahra had hinted he would leave David Jones while he still felt he was on top.
“I will continue while I’m having a good time,” he said. “Like going to a party – you leave when you are having a good time.”