Five months ago Nisa-Today's seemed on the brink of civil war. The proposed merger with Costcutter funded by Kaupthing was in tatters, the blame game was in full swing and the number of member groups being formed was reminiscent of a scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian.
Now under the leadership of non-executive chairman Edwin Booth and chief executive Neil Turton, peace has broken out. Even the rebel shareholders, the Nisa Members' Association, which scuppered the merger with its accusation of cartel activity between Nisa and Costcutter, is backing the new regime.
So what has changed? The easy answer would be to put it down to the retirement of Dudley Ramsden, former chairman and co-founder of Nisa. Ramsden had strong views on how the company should be run and was not a great believer in consensus building. This approach alienated many members and came to a head in the information vacuum that surrounded the merger, with Ramsden the focus of much of the members' anger.
But in reality Ramsden is still very much involved with the company, albeit in more of an 'ambassadorial' role as life president. On top of this, both Booth and Turton were firm supporters of the merger and have stated that they still believe the deal was a good idea.
What has happened, says Turton, is that both men have acted swiftly to set about changing the culture of the group. Turton had been due to be confirmed as chief executive in April but this was brought forward to January to begin the healing process quickly.
He says the new open style of management is not a reaction to the previous leadership. "That is just the way Edwin is," says Turton. "He is like that with his own business and has just brought that through to Nisa. It happens that I share his ideas and have a very similar style."
This glasnost has not gone unnoticed among the membership who agree that it is more than just style over substance. NMA chairman and former agitator-in-chief Mark Proudfoot believes that lessons have been learned since the merger and that Booth and Turton have taken on board many of the issues highlighted by the NMA.
"There is a post-attempted-merger dawn at Nisa-Today's," says Proudfoot. "Nisa is a sleeping giant and it has to wake up. I am confident an alignment is emerging in what the NMA was putting forward to the members and board last year. It is inherent in what Edwin Booth is saying. He is talking the right talk.
"A crucial difference now exists in that all directors of the group are responsible for the delivery of the objectives in a way never witnessed before in Nisa."
Corporate governance has been at the heart of what Booth and Turton have put in place so far. Following last November's agm the board is now made up a cross-section of the different factions from those for and against the merger and those in the wait-and-see camp. Now Turton says even he has been surprised at how well the board is working.
The next step is to drive the business forward and Booth outlined some of his initial ideas in a letter to members last week. These include drawing better terms from suppliers by building greater efficiencies between the group's wholesale and retail arms, a major recruitment drive, as well as developing a think tank that will meet regularly to plot the future.
All of these proposals are still in their infancy but the contrast with where Nisa-Today's is now and where it was in October has definitely impressed the membership. Kishor Patel, independent retailer and MD of Houghton Trading, is pleased the board is listening to its members. "It is good that having asked members for their views they are going with the consensus."
Importantly, says Patel, the new-look Nisa-Today's will be more appealing to prospective retailers and wholesalers, which the group admits it needs to deliver the volumes its ambient warehouse in Scunthorpe can process and which the group is some way off.
"Ever since the merger collapsed I have been asking that everyone should put it behind them and begin working together to grow the business," he says. "We need to come up with constructive ideas and now this appears to be happening I am sure new members will want to be a part of that. We should not forget the group performed well last year and a lot of work has been done with branding and improving the range. All this should make Nisa more attractive."ntimeline
May 2006 Nisa-Today's approached by Icelandic investment bank Kaupthing which proposes a merger with Costcutter
July 2006 Amid an information blackout, while due diligence for the merger is being completed, worried retailers form the Nisa Members' Association. As well as aiming to stop the merger it will campaign for better corporate governance. Following a series of meetings around the UK with Nisa-Today's members, the NMA claims it has the necessary votes to block the merger.
October 2006 The deal sensationally collapses following a complaint from the NMA to the OFT suggesting cartel activities on the part of Nisa-Today's. The complaint that the two groups did not allow free movement of retailers between them was eventually thrown out by the OFT. However, the threat of potential financial penalties contributes to Kaupthing getting cold feet and pulling out of the deal.
November 2006 As recriminations fly, Nisa-Today's chairman Dudley Ramsden announces his retirement. At the agm, Edwin Booth is appointed non-executive chairman and Neil Turton is nominated CEO. Former NMA rebels are also given places on the board
January 2007 Turton's appointment as chief executive is fast-tracked