How Rui Morais plans to steer the ship of change as Dis-Chem’s new CEO

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From becoming the youngest CFO of a listed company when he joined Dis-Chem, to being appointed the company’s CEO, Rui Morais always embraces transformation.

Rui Morais, identified as the successor to Dis-Chem’s CEO position in August 2021, formally stepped into this role in July of this year. With a longstanding history at the company dating back to 2010, Rui made waves by becoming the retailer’s CFO in August 2012, earning the distinction of being the youngest CFO of a listed company at that time.

Preserving heritage, embracing transformation

In the last two years, the pharmacy group has witnessed significant changes. The company’s healthcare focus has evolved from in-store clinics to a much broader range of services, including telemedicine, medical insurance, and now gap cover. Dis-Chem has strategically repositioned itself to assume a leading role in expanding access to primary health care for a significantly wider and underserved segment of the population.

The company launched DisChem Health Gap Cover, followed swiftly by its medical insurance offering. The company also bolstered its e-commerce division, resulting in a remarkable surge in orders from 8,000 to almost 89,000 a month.

Stepping into the role of CEO, Rui didn’t simply adopt a new title; he embraced the responsibility of navigating Dis-Chem through a transformative phase. Adding to this is a shift in the company’s tagline to the broader ‘Better health starts here’. Rui emphasises that this change is not about abandoning the company’s heritage but about being more inclusive.

Recognising the innate human resistance to change, particularly when long-standing norms are disrupted, Rui believes in addressing this through open communication.

“I think your approach needs to be inclusive in order to be successful. As a leader you need to be transparent about changes. People need to understand why things are shifting.”

He emphasises that he embraces a leadership philosophy rooted in openness and clarity, especially during times of transition.

Navigating corporate evolution

Looking back on his journey from CFO to CEO, Rui reflects on the invaluable lessons he learned, and attributes much of his growth to working alongside Ivan Saltzman, the founder of Dis-Chem and a titan in the industry. One of the most significant lessons he absorbed was the importance of staying true to the brand’s identity. Ivan instilled in him the belief that a brand surpasses any individual, even the founder.

“The brand has its own identity and direction and a wise leader understands that organisational values serve as the compass guiding the way,” says Rui. “As the business evolves, it is crucial to remain faithful to what the brand represents.”

Beyond the conceptual lessons, Rui also gained practical insights into retail through Ivan’s mentorship. He greatly appreciated Ivan’s meticulous attention to detail, a trait that significantly impacted store layout and merchandising strategies. Rui believed that these elements were intrinsic to Dis-Chem’s success and deserved constant attention and preservation.

“His attention to detail was phenomenal. It’s hard to explain because it’s not just a science. It’s a combination of art and science,” he says. Under Ivan’s guidance he came to understand the need for leaders to appreciate the qualitative and subjective elements that often accompany numerical data and says it is vital to recognise and value these competences.

In his experience, leadership entails constantly balancing the weight of your responsibilities, and he adds that, “It is important to feel confident in the decisions you make, as the ultimate responsibility lies with you."

Revitalising the vision

The characteristics Rui hopes will define his tenure as CEO include respect for the brand’s identity, meticulous attention to detail, and the ability to bring the entire team along on the journey. His vision is clear: to ensure that Dis-Chem remains true to its roots, even as it continues to evolve and adapt in the ever-changing world of retail.

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