It was Friday, March 20, the end of a gruelling week for Paul Sheehan, then Managing Director of Safilo Retail Australia’s offshoot, Optifashion, when he received a fateful call from head office in Italy. It was none other than Giovanni Pesce, director of Safilo’s retail worldwide retail arm and the news wasn’t good. Pesce was calling to unceremoniously dump Sheehan, the man he had head-hunted almost three years prior. Pesce told Sheehan not to return on Monday and that Ives Palmer would be taking over the running of Optifashion.
The sacking not only left Sheehan confused and bewildered, but according to Safilo insiders, it left many of the staff bemused and stunned.
“We have no idea what’s behind this,” said one member of staff who asked to remain anonymous.
To allay the concerns, Pesce organised a telephone link-up to reassure his Australian staff and managers that it would be business as usual and not to listen to idle rumours that were abounding from competitors…rumours such as Safilo losing Gucci when in fact it had signed a 10 year agreement with Gucci.
When asked for a comment about his sacking, Sheehan said he was confined in what he could say as he had signed a confidentiality agreement, but did say he was at a loss to understand his termination. “But if they terminated me they must have been unhappy with my performance,” he added wryly.
Paul Sheehan has an extensive background in the industry. He is a trained optometrist and spent 25 years in the health insurance industry establishing and running eye care centres for Australian Health Management and NIB Health Funds. He is also a former member of the Registration Board of NSW, President of the Optometrists Association (now defunct) and practised in Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle, Wollongong and rural NSW.
Sheehan pointed out that between February and December of 2008, he was Optifashion’s only employee and in that time the company either acquired or opened 66 practices.
“Until May 2008, I was the only employee and then I hired further employees and now there are 10. The acquisitions and openings of new practices took place between February and December 2008. It was a pretty good performance by a very under-resourced operation. I can’t go into more detail as to why they let me go, but in these economic times, everybody is under economic pressure. I have some bewilderment about the separation and I would have thought that my performance was beyond excellent. My opinion was, having done that amount of work in that period of time, being greatly under resourced, that the termination couldn’t have been justified on performance indicators,” said Sheehan.
Insiders claim the reasons come down to the economic concerns of the mother company. Safilo began its retail operations in Australia with high hopes, the promise of great resources and plans to open 150 mid to upmarket optical centres throughout Australia.
Thanks to the world economic downturn, those plans have now all but evaporated and because the company is so highly geared, the whole nature of the relationship changed last Ocotober when the financial crisis hit. In the past 12 months, Safilo’s share price has tumbled more than 80 per cent.
mivision has tried to contact Sheehan’s replacement, Ives Palmer for a comment, but has so far been unsuccessful.