Mike Ashley proposes to axe Debenhams’ board

Sports Direct chief executive Mike Ashley may be stepping down from his current position to take up a full-time executive role on the board of directors for Debenhams.

Sports Direct, which owns 29.7 per cent of the department store business, said it had requisitioned a general meeting for Debenhams to appoint Ashley to the board, and to remove all current board members save for Rachel Osborne, who became a director in September 2018.

Should the motion go through, Ashley will step down from his position at Sports Direct and will be replaced as acting chief executive by the current deputy chief financial officer Chris Wootton.

The board of Debenhams said they were disappointed Sports Direct had taken this action, as they had been engaging with the business and other stakeholders, according to The Guardian.

“In the meantime, we remain focused on delivering the restructuring of our balance sheet, and our discussions are well advanced,” Debenhams said.

The department store revealed it had seen sales slow over the start of 2019, with like-for-like sales down 5.7 per cent over the first 18 weeks of the financial year, plummeting a further 4.6 per cent over the next eight weeks.

Debenhams said due to “macroeconomic uncertainties and increased financing costs”, a prior statement forecasting its ability to deliver full year profits in line with market expectations “is no longer valid”.

“We are making good progress with our stakeholder discussions to put the business on a firm footing for the future,” Debenhams chief executive Sergio Bucher said, noting that he expects the business will need to close approximately 50 stores in the medium term.

“Our priority is to secure the best outcome for all business and all our stakeholders, whilst minimising the number of store closures and job losses. To do this… we will need the support of both landlords and local authorities to address our rents, rates and lease commitments.”

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