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Drapers Comment: Losing a founder doesn't always shake the foundations

September in fashion is a time for change and new beginnings; perhaps that’s what led to the flurry of senior departures last week.

As the frequent ping of Drapers breaking news alerts in your inbox will have informed you, last week Asos.com founder and chief executive Nick Robertson and Net-a-Porter founder and executive chairman Natalie Massenet tendered their resignations. Now dust has settled on the announcements, attention has turned to the future of the two businesses.

As expected, having been “groomed” for several years by Robertson, chief operating officer Nick Beighton has taken over at the helm of Asos. The city had a knee-jerk reaction, with share prices tumbling 5%. However, after assessing Beighton’s CV, many realised he could be the one to bring an end to a difficult period for the business - and shares recovered to finish almost 2% up.

Last year was rocky for Asos, to say the least, with multiple profit warnings, a fire at its Barnsley warehouse and poor international sales stunted by adverse currency movements. With the troubles centred largely on its financial performance, Beighton, a chartered accountant and Asos’s former chief financial officer, could well be the right man for the job of turning it around. Having been ingrained in the business for six years under the watchful eye of Robertson, he must have a plan to get the Aim-floated juggernaut, whose annual turnover is in the region of £1bn, and its balance sheet back on the right track.

One of his biggest challenges, besides the financials, will be dealing with growing competition from the likes of Zalando, Amazon. Asos has already worked hard to combat this internationally, by introducing zonal pricing. Its pricing strategy must also continue to be a focus at home where fast fashion from Boohoo.com and Misguided threathens to undercut it. All this means Beighton coming at the role from a financial rather than fashion background is unlikely to be a hinderance.

Robertson was followed out the door by Net-a-Porter’s Natalie Massenet, another big name saying goodbye to the business they founded (coincidentally, both in 2000). Massenet’s resignation, while no surprise to many, caused a stir because the merger of Net-a-Porter and Yoox is yet to be completed. The news enforced rumours that the deal struck in March, aimed at creating a €1.3bn (£940m) industry leader, was always going to go in favour of Yoox founder Federico Marchetti, who will lead the merged company.

A question now hangs over the future of the Net-a-Porter brand, which pulled in £654m of sales last year. Losing its founder won’t spell the end, of course, but a change in direction is inevitable. And headhunters are still searching for a replacement for Net-a-Porter chief executive Mark Sebba, whose departure in 2014 was met by an all-singing all-dancing circus.

We wait to see how both Asos and Net-a-Porter fare under new leadership - will the brands suffer, or will a fresh perspective do them the world of good? As with any change at the top, only time will tell; but I think both are strong enough to thrive without tbe close involvement of their founders.

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