Luke Roberts

Share this:

A Tale of Two CEOs

The ABC Four Corners investigation Super Power about Australian supermarket practices was a classic case of how the story hinged on a personal moment. It was a textbook example of the importance of corporate media preparation, or lack of it. Let's break it down.

The story

We already knew the story. An Australian supermarket duopoly is abusing its power to dud  consumers, suppliers and employees. Four Corners’ job was to collate, package the evidence and challenge those at the top of the food chain.

But TV is theatre and it requires players to make it interesting. Cast in the main roles were the two CEOs – Brad Banducci of Woolworths and Leah Weckert of Coles.

Only one of the leading actors played along – Brad Banducci; and he became the story. Leah Weckert skilfully avoided the glare of the spotlight and the action slipped past her.

The journalist was also a performer, wandering through vineyards, shops and a range of facial expressions.

The interview

The ABC did a good job of presenting the damning evidence, and for a while the CEOs handled themselves well.

Presentation of the main characters – Brad Banducci chose a supermarket aisle and a casual, man of the people manner. To be fair, it looked like that is who he is: chatty, confident alpha male, emotional, nodding, gesturing – someone you’d enjoy having a drink with at a BBQ. But that’s the first media training alert: This guy earns $8 million a year, while some of his customers are struggling to put food on the table as profit margins creep up. His media/PR people perhaps should have been more alert to managing his natural personality in what was always going to be a tough interview situation.

Leah Weckert was all teflon. She looked comfortable in her own environment, even aloof; her body barely moved; she had an easy, polite smile; she took her time to answer questions, and even employed that most powerful tool of all: silence. She made the journalist work. She would make a great politician.

Their performance

Their performance: Banducci’s answers were direct, colloquial, pacy and detailed, whereas Weckert went big picture and somehow seemed to answer the question without answering it.She contexualized claims, refusing to get drawn on just one or two examples.

The result

The interviewer enjoyed Banducci’s volatility and willingness to engage, and so went harder. But he appeared disarmed by Weckert and, strangely, backed off when he could have pushed harder – for example when it was revealed that dark store employees were working in stifling heat, he allowed Weckert to get away with a “We’ll look into it” answer.

The meltdown

Call it what you like – a gotcha moment, a brain fade, whatever. When an increasingly frustrated Banducci made an off-the-cuff comment about former ACCC chair Rod Sims, the Woolworths CEO was toast. He made the fatal error of asking for an on-camera comment to be deleted. The ABC had its story. You could almost see the delight on the interviewer’s face. And when Banducci briefly walked out, it was the cherry on the cake. The ABC hasn’t stopped crowing about it since.

So why the hell hadn’t Banducci’s media/PR people prepared him or perhaps they did? And why didn’t they know that you never ever ask a journalist to delete something, especially when the cameras are rolling. There was a simple rescue for that moment. A properly trained manager would not do it in the first place and if he/she did would take a breath and say something like: “Let me rephrase that. Rod is a man of integrity. What I mean to say is …”


So who was to blame for the train wreck? – Well, everyone. Banducci for losing his cool and behaving unprofessionally, and perhaps those around him for not training and preparing him for what would probably be the toughest interview of his career. Banducci clearly did not understand the medium of TV.

Or was it the culture of the organisation. Even if it was hubris on the part of a senior executive, the organisational culture should have been stronger.


And what of Leah Weckert? – Maybe she sent a thank you note to Banducci, because there’s been little said about her post-interview. That is despite the fact that Coles and Woolworths are almost lock-step in their practices. She has a natural calm manner, but one suspects she’s been trained well, too.

Signup to our Newsletter

Full of helpful resources for executives and teams, as well as the latest news and events from SMT.