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Clarks needs shoe people at the top, says industry

Clarks should look to its heritage and bring footwear expertise back into the business following the departure of chief executive Mike Shearwood, industry experts have said.

Speaking to Drapers, industry insiders have said the family-owned footwear business should take the opportunity to find a footwear expert with “thorough knowledge” of the sector to replace Shearwood.

“The business has lost shoe people,” said one footwear source. “As big businesses grow, they always bring in expertise from other sectors, which is fine, but Clarks is the largest [traditional] shoe store retailer and it needs people that understand footwear.”

Shearwood, who joined the footwear business in September 2016, resigned on 25 June following an investigation “into complaints of conduct contrary to the family-owned company’s code of business ethics”.

Stella David, the company’s senior independent director, has been appointed interim CEO.

In a statement Clarks said: “Clarks recently learned that aspects of Mr Shearwood’s conduct, conversations and expressions fell short of the behaviours expected of all its employees on a number of occasions. In these circumstances the board has accepted Mr Shearwood’s resignation.”

Shearwood’s departure comes weeks after the firm reported loss of £31.3m for the year to 31 January.

Clarks group sales fell 7% year on year to £1.5bn. Underlying group operating profit fell 29% to £45.2m, but EBITDA rose 5% to £97.5m.

Shearwood had begun implementing a turnaround plan to help bring the shoemaker back into profit.

That plan, which may or may not now go ahead, included targeting specific customer segments within different markets and reducing discounting across the business.

One industry veteran said the plan could now be put “on hold”, as there was a lack of experience at board level to push it ahead: “The current turnaround plan is up in the air. My impression is that they have a long way to go and really need some shoe professionals in there.

“Clarks needs a wholesale change at the top. It will require bringing in people [on the board] who know the footwear business. They may have to search this country or the world to find the right people.”

One UK shoe supplier says the key to Clarks’ future success could be to look back at its core values: “Clarks has chased a younger, more fashionable audience, which is not as loyal and willing to part with cash as its traditional customer. Its Trigenic product has been a focus for the team and it appeals to younger people, but that’s not where Clarks heritage lies.”

Clarks has 533 stores in the UK. The business launched its new manufacturing facility in Somerset, Morelight, last month.

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