Richard Hunter is one to watch. The former north Londoner has been appointed CEO of Shufersal (formerly Supersol), Israel’s largest retail chain with 230 supermarkets. He joined from sister company NetVision, a communications provider where Mr Hunter, 40, had been CEO since 2007.
Both NetVision, with an annual revenue of £220 million, and Shufersal, with a yearly turnover nearly £2 billion, are controlled by Nochi Dankner’s IDB Group, a diversified business conglomerate with total assets worth over US$ 30 billion. Mr Dankner is one of the most influential businessmen in Israel.
Speaking from his Tel Aviv office this week, Mr Hunter, who is seen as one of Israel’s most promising “young” business leaders, explained that he is relishing the new challenge. He said: “I have a passion for retail and providing good service, which makes customers happy.”
It would be an understatement to say that Israel has not always been known for good customer service, and Mr Hunter is happy to have been part of a revolution. “In the 1980s, Supersol, as it was called, was a fragmented, unattractive chain. Now our outlets are of the highest international standards and look rather similar to Tesco. I think Israeli standards of service are very high. Our mobile operators, for example, offer better service than their counterparts in the UK.”
Mr Hunter, a former member of Edgware United Synagogue, attended Rosh Pinah Jewish Primary School before immigrating to Israel with his parents and settling in Ra’anana when he was 11. He served 10 years in the IDF Intelligence Corps, reaching the rank of captain, while also gaining a law degree from the College of Management. His wife, Yael, is Belgian and they have four daughters.
Softly-spoken, he is looked upon as an outsider who has brought overseas management methods to Israel. “Israelis have some of the finest managers in the world but I do like to think that I have retained my English manners in the way I do business. That means that I can let people know I am upset without having to shout at them, and in negotiations it is important to give people a fair deal.”
Many have suggested that Mr Hunter’s reputation for fairness is one of the reasons for his new appointment. The Israeli media reports that he was parachuted into Shufersal by Mr Dankner following a scandal involving his predecessor, Effi Rosenhaus, who is now the chain’s president. On Wednesday, Mr Rosenhaus was charged by the Israel Antitrust Authority with ordering stores to remove a range of branded products because the chain’s competitors were selling them at heavily discounted prices.
Mr Hunter had intended to follow his father, Michael, into the legal profession. But a brief period as an articled clerk made it clear to him that he was not cut out for law, and he took an MBA at INSEAD in France. After graduating, he returned to Edgware to work for the international consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
“We planned to stay in London for four years before returning to Israel. But after one year McKinsey opened an office in Israel and offered me a position. I was involved in projects in Israel and worldwide. I was most impressed by IDB and the work done by Nochi Dankner and Ami Erel. They had a sharp business vision and always seemed to instinctively make the right decisions. So when in 2006 they offered me the job of deputy CEO at NetVision, I jumped ship.”
Mr Hunter is proud not only of his own record in increasing NetVision’s profits by 30 per cent over the past year despite the recession, but also the performance of the Israeli economy, which grew 0.5 per cent in 2009 when most OECD economies contracted.
“We have come a long way from the hyper-inflation of the 1980s,” he said. “I think we were saved by the fact that our banks collapsed in 1983 and since then we have had stringent regulations which saved us from the fate of the US and UK banks but did not stifle economic growth.
“Israel’s economic success is based on high-tech and aggressively identifying opportunities such as real estate in Eastern Europe. We have major global players such as Teva Pharmaceuticals and our export-driven industries have also allowed a strong domestic market to develop.” IDB has been shaped over the past decade by Mr Dankner. “Nochi Dankner showed his vision by buying over 3 per cent of Credit Suisse in October 2008 when everybody was scared of investing in banks.”
Mr Hunter won’t be drawn into declaring his own long-term vision. “I’m having fun. I’m simply looking forward to the new challenge of Shufersal and making it an even more successful chain.”