Ashley offers to quit Sports Direct for Debenhams
Written by Hannah McGrath
Mike Ashley has launched his latest assault in the battle for control of Debenhams after announcing plans to oust all but one of its board members and appoint himself in an executive role.
In a filing to the stock market last night, Ashley, who owns a 30 per cent holding in the department store chain, announced that he would be prepared to relinquish the roles of chief executive and director at Sports Direct in order to take the reins at Debenhams.
The struggling High Street retailer issued the latest in a string of profit warnings earlier this week after the costs of its programme to turnaround its finances proved to be higher than first expected and sales continued to decline.
Ashley’s dramatic proposal comes after he led a boardroom coup at the start of the year, resulting in the ousting of Ian Chesire as chairman and the removal of Sergio Bucher from the board, although the latter remained in his role of chief executive.
Under the terms of the offer, Ashley would give up his official roles in Sports Direct to join Debenhams, while Chris Wootton, Sports Direct’s deputy financial officer, would be named as acting chief executive of Sports Direct.
In a statement following the proposals, Debenhams said its board has been engaging with Sports Direct and described its disappointment at the move.
The retail tycoon, who saved struggling department store chain House of Fraser from collapse with a £90 million buyout last year is looking to turn around the fortune of Debenhams, which recorded a pre-tax loss of £491.5 million last year and reported lagging sales over the crucial Christmas period.
In December, Debenhams turned down Ashley’s offer of a £40 million loan, due to conditions proposed as part of the bailout plan.
Ashley has previously suggested that House of Fraser and Debenhams could be merged in order to rescue both businesses from the turmoil on the UK High Street as retailers struggle to adapt to the consumer shift to online shopping.
Debenhams currently has 165 stores and 25,000 staff members, but has announced plans to close 50 stores over the next five years, putting 4,000 jobs at risk.
Last month the department store announced it had secured a £40 million financial lifeline to support its ongoing restructuring of the business.