Mar 7, 2019
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Mike Ashley wants exec role at Debenhams, would quit as Sports Direct CEO

Mar 7, 2019

News last week the Debenhams’ performance is still weak clearly didn’t please its biggest shareholder with Sports Direct issuing a statement late on Thursday saying it wanted to get its own CEO Mike Ashley on the board, to eject most other current board members and to put Ashley in a key exec role.

Mike Ashley - Reuters

It’s a big move and one that doesn’t happen very often. But with UK retail facing fundamental challenges, mid-market department stores generally struggling and Brexit just around the corner, the unexpected really can happen.

Sports Direct said it has “requisitioned a general meeting of Debenhams plc to appoint Mr Mike Ashley to the board of directors of Debenhams and to remove all of the current members of the Debenhams board (other than Rachel Osborne who became a director in September 2018).”

And as mentioned, Ashley isn’t only looking for a seat at the top table with the statement going on to say that if he is “appointed to the board of directors of Debenhams during this business-critical period for Debenhams, Mr Ashley would carry out an executive role, and would focus on the Debenhams business, including building a strong board and management team.”

He also said he would step down from his current roles as a director and chief executive of Sports Direct and would be replaced there as acting chief executive by Chris Wootton, who’s currently Sports Direct's deputy CFO.

A fuller statement “in relation to Sports Direct's reasons for the requisitioning of a meeting of Debenhams and the proposed appointment of Mr Ashley will follow in due course,” we’re told.

Will it happen? That’s not a certainty and Debenhams’ current management clearly won’t be happy about the idea. But with Sports Direct owning almost 30% of the company and other shareholders having seen their investments heading ever further downwards, the support could be there for the Ashley plan. Watch this space.

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