Sir David Jones, the former chairman and chief executive of Next, has died aged 76, after living with Parkinson’s disease.
In a statement Next said: “It is with great sadness that [Next] records the passing of its former chairman and chief executive, Sir David Jones CBE, over the weekend. David will be remembered by many of his colleagues as the man whose courage, good sense, kindness and hard work navigated the company through its most demanding moments in the late 1980s until his retirement in 2006. David was a true friend of Next and our thoughts are with his family at this time.”
Jones joined Next in 1986 from the Grattan catalogue business, and was made chief executive two years later, when the company’s founder George Davies was ousted from the top role. At this time, Next was on the brink of collapse and its stock market value had collapsed from £1.3bn to £25m.
Determined to turn the company around, Jones closed more than 100 poorly performing stores in the late 1980s, cutting around 2,000 staff roles and reducing the number of clothing ranges.
Jones stepped down as chief executive in 2001 and, after a year as deputy chairman, became chairman, appointing former assistant Lord Wolfson as his successor.
Jones was then able to disclose that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – a secret he had been keeping since 1982. He resolved to keep the illness to himself, through fear of it destroying his career.
In May 2004, Jones became one of the first non-executive directors of the Morrisons supermarket group. He remained as Next chairman until 2006.
Following this he became a director of JJB Sports in 2007, later serving as chairman until ill health forced him to step down in 2010.
The industry has been paying its respects to Jones.
Lord Wolfson, Next CEO, commented: “David was remarkable. He managed to combine success, humility, resilience, kindness, an accountant’s eye for detail and an extraordinary ability to put all at their ease. A great leader and a good friend.”
Fiona Lambert, former womenswear product director at Next Group, and managing director of new womenswear brand Harpenne, said: “David Jones was a rare combination. He was an incredibly talented retailer, with a sharp, incisive talent for the right decisions, who shaped the Next of today.
“He was also a phenomenally kind person who had real empathy with people and customers. I feel very lucky that I got to work with him.”
Retail analyst Richard Hyman commented: “It is hard to overstate the significance of David Jones in building the foundations of the Next we all know today. George Davies had the genius to invent the brand and build it. David brought the commercial rigour with disciplines that first rescued the business from the edge of disaster and then established the foundations on which today’s company are built. George launched the Directory – a massive disrupter of the old catalogue mail order business. But David had the foresight to retain the (at the time) state-of-the-art automated warehouse when the rest of Grattan was sold off.
“To have achieved all this while coping with an illness none of us was aware of was extraordinary. And along with all of this, David was a lovely, modest man with great personal values. He made an indelible mark on one of our very best businesses and his influence is there today in the company’s continued outperformance.”
A retail visionary and an exceptional leader, Jones will be sadly missed by all who had the pleasure of meeting him.