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Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci's defiance a credibility nightmare or 'good cop, bad cop' tactic?

With just months left in the top job, Brad Banducci spent hours on a question a 'student' could answer. So, how far has he come since his last PR nightmare?

From resigning days after defiantly storming out of an interview to a fiery clash over supermarket prices that earned him a threat of jail time. Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci did nothing to salvage his credibility when he fronted the Senate over supermarket pricing, according to one expert.

Woolworths claimed a succession plan for Banducci had already been put into motion before his shambolic interview with Four Corners. So now, with the cat out of the bag and just over 19 weeks left in his tenure as chief executive, what changed?

Credibility expert Neryl East broke down his “mini-tantrum” for Yahoo Finance in February and said any strategy Woolworths had to rebuild a connection with the Australian public on Tuesday failed.

“It was never going to be a comfortable encounter for the Woolies CEO, that previous interview turned up the pressure. But I was fairly surprised by how his performance deteriorated,” she told Yahoo Finance.

WATCH WOOLWORTHS CEO'S FINAL STAND BELOW

Woolworths Brad Banducci inset above a green overlayed image of a woolworths shopfront and crumpled invoices.
Woolworths Brad Banducci was threatened with jail when he refused to answer a question about the company's profitability. (AAP/Woolworths)

Do you have a story to tell? Contact yahoo.finance.au@yahooinc.com

“I would’ve liked to have seen just a little indication that there was a connection with people who are feeling the impacts of cost-of-living increases, where it seemed to be more of an approach of ‘let's do what we can not to answer some of these tricky questions’.”

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One of the big questions at the Senate inquiry was about the supermarket’s return on equity, a financial ratio used to evaluate the profitability and efficiency of a company

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Greens Senator Nick McKim thought it could be easily answered by a first-year commerce student, and accused Banducci of “cherry picking” profitability data and misleading the public.

But the Woolworths executive - who admitted to taking home $8.4 million last year - said it wasn’t a metric he focused on, instead trying to speak to the company’s return on investment.

After a protracted back and forth, and the threat of jail, Banducci took the question on notice, admitting he did not know the answer.

“I think it is going to be another one of those times where people talk about the way the situation was managed much longer than they talk about the actual issue at the centre of it. I don't know that's ever a good place for a leader to be," East said.

The credibility expert added that people want to see genuine responses, authenticity and transparency; a challenge now laid out for incoming CEO Amanda Bardwell, who has been with the $43 billion retail giant for 23 years.

It’s not the first time a company has put the reins in a new set of hands to steer them out of controversy and give the public confidence that there will be change under new stewardship.

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Take Qantas CEO Vanessa Hudson for example. She has been the face of the embattled airline’s apology and the pivot toward rebuilding lost trust. East said this was Bardwell’s opportunity to seize.

“There is a sense of good cop, bad cop, isn’t there? It definitely opens the door for Woolies to rebuild, but it’s a risky strategy because [Banducci] didn’t do their reputation any favours, so the new approach would have to be a marked difference,” she said.

The former journalist turned corporate communications specialist, who now coaches senior leaders around Australia, agreed with McKim: punters are done with PR spin and “just want to hear it straight”.

"People want leaders who can remove some of that uncertainty from the last few years by being clear … even if that news isn't very pleasant, even if the news is, ‘Yes, you are going to have to pay more for your groceries or your fruit and veg’,” she said.

“Coming out and telling it warts and all, I think is more palatable.”