Realestate closes in on new CEO

Web property specialist REA Group today said the search to replace its outgoing CEO Simon Baker was in its final stages.

Web property specialist REA Group today said the search to replace its outgoing CEO Simon Baker was in its final stages.

Simon Baker
(Credit: REA Group)

"We are getting closer to making an announcement. [The CEO search] has reached the final stages and we will make a final announcement soon after," acting CEO Georg Chmiel told media at today's announcement of the company's earnings for the 2008 financial year.

Baker was recently asked to leave the company by its board, only six months after the company's board expressed pleasure at Baker's decision to stay in the role.

Chmeil, who has served as REA Group's chief financial officer for the past three years, is standing in until a new CEO is found. The board asked Baker to leave, Chmeil said, adding it was unusual for a CEO to stay with the same company for seven years. Baker's original appointment to the position was in 2001.

"The board thought it would be good to put in someone with fresh ideas with different skills to take the business to the next level," Chmeil said. "[Simon] did a tremendous job and was well respected amongst staff," he said.

The company today reported it had reduced its dependence on revenues from Australia by 2 per cent. But while its UK business generated AU$22 million of its AU$155 million annual revenues, it made an EBITDA loss of over AU$10 million.

Its Italian business brought in over AU$5 million but also made a loss of AU$2.8 million. Luxemburg and Australia remain the only businesses that positively contributed to Realestate.com.au's AU$36 million annual EBITDA.

A major focus for the business as it continued to acquire online real estate businesses in foreign markets would be to standardise the technology platform used by its staff under an initiative known internally as its "Global Platform". "Whenever we buy companies, we are gradually replacing legacy systems with more up-to-date or more aligned solutions, and we are investing a little bit of money into building that," Chmeil said.

REA Group maintained a planned acquisition list of around 10 to 15 businesses, according to Chmeil.

"We have made some progress and have implemented a couple of modules in various countries, which is all done in a way that leverages the efficiencies that exist between the various countries," he added.

"We've revamped the UK website in look and feel which makes it very similar to the Australian website. Also, we've rolled out back office and billing and financial systems to a few countries."

However, the so-called Global Platform was "not one piece of software", said Chmiel. "It's a group of solutions that work together that are standardised and that will be gradually refreshed," he said.

"It's not one solution, but it is a platform which allows us to have people in various countries use the same language."

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