The 7 December announcement that Spicers CEO Bill Armstrong was to take early retirement came as quite a surprise to the industry. You can’t argue that Armstrong, who had pretty much become Mr Spicers over the years, had done his time, some 33 years at last count, but there was no hint of the imminent announcement before it was made.
Big boots to fill, but filled they have been by the respected European OP figure Rob Vale, who recently enjoyed a near six-year spell at Office Depot and is a former director of European subsidiaries for Lyreco.
"This is a great company with a great history," Vale said. "Clearly, there are some challenges ahead, but you only have to look to the US and to the wholesaling model there to know that it is alive and kicking."
Vale will officially join Spicers in January 2006 and takes charge from mid-February. While unable to speak in too much detail about his new role at this stage, Vale was firm in nipping in the bud any discussion about the Spicers model going forward.
He said: "I can categorically say that there is no change to the Spicers model. Spicers is a wholesaler, it doesn’t sell to end-users and that isn’t going to change. It is important to make that point because it would be disappointing if there was any confusion on that."
Tony Thorne, group CEO of Spicers’ parent company DS Smith, welcomed Vale’s "strong track record in the OP market and considerable experience in managing pan-European businesses." Armstrong added: "I am confident that he will further strengthen Spicers position as Europe’s leading office product wholesaler."
Vale said that he had no advance word of Armstrong’s early retirement and that it was merely a case of the role coming up when he was "ready, willing and able to take advantage of it".
Armstrong will be on hand in an advisory capacity after Vale takes the reins although the exact details of how that will be done are yet to be worked out. Paying tribute to Armstrong, Vale added: "Bill is very well regarded and has a high profile in the industry. The Spicers business has grown and developed extremely well if you look at where it came from and where it has got to over the years."