In a move that signifies major change at Billabong, the 20 year Billabong veteran and CEO Derek O’Neill was pushed aside last week to make way for former Target managing director Launa Inman.

Billabong founder Gordon Merchant has also refused to publicly back the retailer’s chairman Ted Kunkel, just a week after the company ousted O’Neill.

When asked where Merchant had confidence in Kunkel remaining as chairman he replied, “We will see”.

Jordy Smith will have to wait until next year to defend with WCT Billabong Pro title. Photo: ASP

Mr Merchant, a non-executive director at Billabong, said he had broken the news to Mr O’Neill of Ms Inman’s appointment.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the upheaval last week, Mr Merchant said Ms Inman’s retail experience would be valuable.

“I think she is exactly what we need,” Mr Merchant said. “She has some structure.”

In February, Billabong announced it would close up to 150 stores worldwide after a 72 per cent collapse in profit during the six months to December.

Mr Merchant was speaking at a media event hosted by a separate manufacturing company that he owns, Plantic.

He praised Mr O’Neill’s contribution to the growth of Billabong but said retail training within the company had not kept pace with its global expansion.

“Billabong has been through a lot of growth and the staff there were never really formally trained,” Mr Merchant said.

Major controversy erupted in Jeffreys Bay when Billabong downgraded the Billabong Pro surf contest from a World Championship event to a third tier “6 star” event. Financial constraints were given as the reason for the downgrade.

The decision split the surf community and caused a huge public outcry as a result. There is subsequently no World Tour event anywhere on the African continent.

The Billabong share price closed yesterday at $ 2.06 after bottoming out at $ 1.75 on 30 December 2011.

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