The appointment of Pentland’s Chris Stephenson as the new CEO of Jigsaw could lay the path for expansion or licensing of the brand, industry experts have told Drapers.
Stephenson was most recently global president of the activewear division at Pentland Brands, but left earlier this year when the company restructured its executive team.
He held the role at Pentland from January 2017, and was previously chief executive at Pentland-owned rugby brand Canterbury from 2008 to December 2016. Before that, he was finance director at several non-fashion businesses including 20:20 Mobile and Total Home Entertainment.
Stephenson had been acting as a non-executive director of Jigsaw for several months.
A number of suppliers and recruitment agents have said Stephenson could lead an aggressive growth strategy at the business.
“The appointment is obviously about finance, that is [Stephenson’s] bag,” one recruitment expert said. “Pentland is a big licensing business. If Jigsaw’s strategy is to go down the route of licensing and wholesale, Chris has experience and is the right guy, but product still [has to be the focus].”
Many expressed surprise at the appointment as he was not seen as a frontrunner by many industry observers to replace Peter Ruis, who has since joined Anthropologie as managing director of international.
One headhunter noted: “It seems like a strange appointment. His background is in mobile, finance and then sportswear. [He doesn’t have any] womenswear experience. It is very surprising, but we’ll soon see if it is madness or genius.”
Another source said: “[Stephenson] is a turnaround specialist with a finance background. I would say that [Jigsaw] better have the very best creative team in place.”
Others say Stephenson’s lack of experience in womenswear should not hold him back as long as he has the right management team in place.
“If he has the right people around him it doesn’t matter if he has no experience. You don’t have to know everything as chief executive, but you do need to rely on people who do,” said one source.
One supplier added: “[Jigsaw] has a good team in place in design and buying, and they were looking for someone who can talk money to grow the business quicker. Everyone’s looking at how they can clinch the market and get their share, as it has been really tough over the past year.”
If Jigsaw is to press ahead under Stephenson’s stewardship, then a focus on product and the retailer’s target customer is key, to sources close to the business suggest.
“Ruis did some great stuff in terms of rebranding the business and marketing, but there are still some fundamentals that are still not quite right. People don’t understand who [the Jigsaw customer] is”, said one observer.
One supplier added: “[Jigsaw] needs more clarity on product.
“Look at Reiss, its ladies’ business has gone from strength to strength because it is clear on who its customer is. Reiss took that market, –Jigsaw could [do similar].”