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Failed Shop Direct sale sparked Baldock’s exit

The failure to sell Shop Direct this summer sparked Baldock’s impending departure from the firm, industry observers have said.

In July Shop Direct’s shareholders decided not to pursue discussions to sell part or all of the business, which operates, Very Exclusive and Littlewoods, because interest from prospective bidders had cooled as a result of the UK’s current political climate.

Industry insiders have told Drapers the announcement that Baldock is leaving the etailer next summer after five years at the helm is linked to the abandoned sale.

“It wasn’t a big surprise,” said one source familiar with the situation. “I had always thought that should he not be successful in getting a sale through in the summer, the owners would have put pressure on him.”

Another source agreed: “The news isn’t a massive surprise. The fact that the owners didn’t get the sale meant there would be pressure on Alex to leave, whether it was his decision or theirs.”

One headhunter said the sale not happening was the main driver for Baldock’s departure “without doubt”. She added that he will most likely go into a global role at a consumer-facing tech business and added that his “shoes will be big to fill” at Shop Direct.

“Alex is the brightest leader we have in fashion retail in the UK. The strides Shop Direct has taken under him are phenomenal. Shop Direct will no doubt be looking for someone from outside the fashion sector [to replace him]. It has been a trend of late in the industry and it will continue.”

Aidan Barclay, chairman of Shop Direct, added: “Alex is a class act. He’s been pivotal to the remarkable digital transformation of Shop Direct. He’s brought strategic clarity, relentless execution, and inspired his people to get behind him at every step.

“He’ll head off to his next challenge with our very best wishes for, and every confidence in, his future success.

“In the meantime, I know he and the team will ensure a smooth succession as we continue the transformation of Shop Direct into a world-class digital retailer.”

Drapers has asked Shop Direct about the reasons for Baldock’s departure.

One source close to the situation said Shop Direct may be looking to the retail sector for candidates rather than the tech industry, while one recruiter speculated that Tesco CEO Matt Davies may be in the running.

Fran Minogue, managing partner at executive search company Clarity, said Baldock will have “no problem” securing another leadership role in or outside of retail: “He has done a brilliant job. He has a customer-centric approach and is tech savvy – that combination of skills can be applied to many different fields, and he won’t be short of offers.”

Baldock joined Shop Direct in 2012 from Royal Bank of Scotland, where he was managing director for four years. He previously spent four years at Barclays as corporate director then commercial director.

Baldock is the latest senior departure from Shop Direct. Jonathan Wall, group ecommerce director, left the business this summer after seven years.

In July Drapers revealed Very Exclusive managing director Sarah Curran is leaving after three years.

Shop Direct’s deputy CEO, Gareth Jones, left in December last year.

On 2 October Shop Direct announced group annual sales increased by 5.6% on a like-for-like basis to £1.93bn for the year to 1 July, driven by sales growth of 14.6% to £1.26bn at Very.

Underlying profit before tax was up 10.2% to £160.4m, while group gross margin was maintained at 40.8%.


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