Mike Ashley Plans to Hand Frasers CEO Job to Future Son-in-Law
(Bloomberg) -- Frasers Group Plc Chief Executive Officer Mike Ashley is considering stepping down and handing over the reins to his 31-year-old future son-in-law Michael Murray.
The retailer behind the Sports Direct and House of Fraser brands said the board is in discussions about “transitioning” the role of CEO to Murray on May 1 next year. If the move takes place, Ashley, who began building his retail business almost 40 years ago, will remain as an executive director, the company said in a statement on Thursday.
Murray is engaged to Ashley’s daughter Anna, and currently holds the role of “head of elevation,” charged with modernizing the group’s store estate.
The move was announced alongside full-year results, which showed a 29% increase in underlying earnings in the year to April 25. Frasers didn’t provide a forecast for the current fiscal year as there’s still too much uncertainty regarding the pandemic and a “probable” return of lockdown restrictions as the delta variant surges in the U.K.
Shares in Frasers fell 3% in London on Thursday.
Ashley, a former squash coach, made his name founding the Sports Direct chain from a single store in 1982 and built it up into the largest sportswear chain in Britain. He’s a controversial character as his retail empire has faced accusations of labor abuse in the past and he has flouted corporate governance norms, including when he initially failed to disclose a family link when Murray began working for the company in 2016.
In recent years Ashley, who controls about two-thirds of Frasers’ shares, has also attracted headlines when snapping up often large stakes in rival retailers. The gambles haven’t always panned out, most notably when a 150 million-pound ($208 million) investment in the Debenhams department store was wiped out when it collapsed into insolvency.
Since joining, Murray has focused on upgrading the stores in the Frasers group, particularly within the main Sports Direct brand which once was best known for its pile it high, sell it cheap approach to retailing. Frasers said today that Murray’s elevation strategy is “transforming the business and receiving positive feedback from consumers and our brand partners.”
“The board considers it appropriate that Michael leads us forward,” the company said.
Ashley has only been chief executive since 2016, taking over when Dave Forsey, who had held the position for many years, resigned. Before that he was executive deputy chairman.
Shares in Frasers are up 36% since the start of the year.
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