Roger Corbett is farewelling Woolworths with a big bang – a billion dollar profit. The result was a lift of 24%, led by strong supermarket results.

Woolworths has used improved technology to bring costs down. The improvements Woolworths has implemented allow lower shelf pricing and increased margins – the stuff of retailers’ dreams. This represents a shift in retail thinking.

There was a time when stores were supreme. They told HQ what to buy. We went through a period when the buying office ruled by cutting good deals. Later still, people with marketing skills rose, designing category mixes.

Now the successful big retailers are ruled by those who understand the importance of the timing and dimension of the merchandise mix. They focus less on what to buy than on the issues surrounding how many, when, and where. The efficiency of merchandise handling is the key profit driver where improvements have been available.

Corbett and his team seemed to learn this before Coles and gained a jump.

Corbett has also stayed close to stores and customers. He is not above helping a store manager clean up a car park full of trolleys. While trolleys are not his accountability, it is symptomatic of a leader who listens and exposes himself to the possibility of hearing from those involved in moving the merchandise the last three feet of its journey.

Roger Corbett is the complete package. He is a retailer – unlike John Fletcher. He understands the Australian market – unlike Dennis Eck. He is honest – unlike Brian Quinn. How many years back do we need to go before we find a CEO at Coles Myer who could get a tick in all three of those boxes?