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Ashley injects 'own DNA' into House of Fraser

Hof williamson ashley

House of Fraser suppliers and industry sources expressed little surprise today as Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley culled senior management at the troubled department store chain.

In an announcement to the London Stock Exchange on 1 October Sports Direct said it had “dismissed the former directors and senior management” at HoF.

The announcement said the dismissals followed “calls for an investigation ino the circumstance of the collapse of HoF”. Last month it was reported that Ashley had called for HoF’s former directors to face an Insolvency Service inquiry, claiming they “misled” suppliers and warehouse operators.

Sports Direct declined to name which members of senior management were affected but several industry sources told Drapers chief executive Alex Williamson, and chief product and trading officer David Walker-Smith are among those who have left. 

Chief financial officer Colin Elliot and chief marketing officer Paddy Earnshaw are also believed to have departed.

Drapers understands that buying and merchandising director Simon Pickering is still at HoF.

HoF chairman Frank Slevin left a week after Sports Direct bought the department store chain out of administration for £90m in August.

Sources close to the situation said Ashley was installing his own team at HoF, including Flannels and USC managing director Cyril Williams, who has been given a management role.

“It is no surprise that Ashley is putting his own DNA in there,” said one supplier source. “Ashley is dealing with property himself, along with [Sports Direct head of elevation] Michael Murray, and he has split the rest of the business into different sectors.

“Cyril Williams is involved on the men’s side of things. He knows his way around formalwear. [Alex] Williamson was a nice guy, but he was way out of his depth.”

Another brand source said: “Cyril Williams is working at HoF. HoF’s buying and merchandising teams were pretty deep compared with a lot of retailers. Sports Direct will cut a lot of fat, and they won’t accept it. They will be looking to make the business leaner – that’s how Sports Direct operates. Margins are too tight [to do otherwise].”

Another source said Ashley had cut any duplicated roles at HoF: “Sports Direct has the equivalent for those [board-level] positions at both Sports Direct and Flannels. They have their own legal, finance and property teams. Sports Direct has stripped it all back. The workers are running the business and Sports Direct is overseeing it.”

One supplier expressed concern about further disruption following months of turmoil at HoF: “I’m worried. Brands will take fright if the directors they have been dealing with over the last few months have gone. Sports Direct has been unmovable, we still can’t get our stock out of [HoF distributor] XPO Logistics’ warehouse. It is an unbearable mess.”

Drapers has contacted Alex Williamson and Sports Direct for comment.


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