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'I’m not Father Christmas': Mike Ashley’s hearing in quotes

Sports Direct founder and executive deputy chairman Mike Ashley was summoned to give evidence on the working practices for employees at his sportswear firm to MPs earlier today. Drapers rounds up his key comments.

Mike Ashley

Mike Ashley

On his review into working practices:

“I can agree with you I’m not the right person in some ways because I’m not an expert in every area of employment; there may be better people qualified but I felt in the short-term I could make the most difference.”

On the culture of Sports Direct:

“It’s very hardworking but it should come with high rewards. It’s about the people – that is the value. It grows into itself, becomes its own thing. I didn’t build Sports Direct, it built me.”

On workers being a minute late and fined the equivalent of 15 minutes’ pay:

“I think that’s unacceptable. As I understand it, that’s changed. I’m not Father Christmas, I’m not going to make the world wonderful but you have to have a balanced view – as an individual, would you tolerate that, is that fair? And if it isn’t then I’ll change it.

“I don’t know when that started – it definitely wasn’t a policy I put in because I don’t believe it is fair. If one of my kids went to work somewhere and were two minutes late and got docked 15 minutes’ pay, I’d think that was unreasonable.”

On public space protection orders introduced near Shirebrook to prevent antisocial behaviour by workers:

“It’s not an easy issue for me to address as it is outside Sports Direct premises. We talk to the relevant groups to see if there is anything we can do to help, you can train people on alcoholism but I can’t do much more than that. We can produce pamphlets, talk about it but after that I’m struggling to do more.”

On the ‘six strikes’ policy at Shirebrook:

“If it’s executed correctly and there’s no abuse of it, if it’s reasonable, then it’s OK. You have to have some system.”

On attending the select committee hearing:

“I am coming here today to listen and one of the reasons I agreed to come is to make a difference.”

On rewarding good performance:

“I hope it’s a very heavily ‘bonused’ culture – not just the money, it can be holidays, prizes, whatever gives the feeling of being a team. They do loads of crazy things at Sports Direct, days out. That’s a small proportion and it doesn’t touch that many people. The bonus structure and money should touch more people. Should the pot get bigger, I bet you’ll find the performance gets better too.”

On dealing with poor performance:

“I think everyone goes through periods in life when they go through dips and it is those points that you have to be careful that you’re being fair with people. I’ve had periods in my life when I’ve been off my game – if you get to that point you would throw away 30 years when I have been. I definitely encourage my managers to act in that way.”

On hearing one female worker was offered a permanent contract if she went to dinner with a manager:

“That’s the total opposite of kind – sexual predators like that should be dealt with. It shouldn’t happen and if it does, it shouldn’t. I don’t know what I can put in place but I’m going to try.”

On how other companies deal with it:

“Are you certain there’s no sexual…. what do you call it… harassment happening Sainsbury’s? I think there may be. I think the question is does Sainsbury’s have a better process to deal with it? If so then Sports Direct has to pull its socks up. This is the first time I am hearing it.”

On growing fast:

“The internet growth was never envisaged 10 years ago and it is extremely labour intensive. How do you pick an order for one person in that size of warehouse? It’s impossible. You can’t do it and you have to accept that the internet growth was a phenomena that we could never have allowed for. Sports Direct made some mistakes but it is impossible that I can get everything right, I am one human being. Let’s keep this positive.”

On where the responsibility for workers lies:

“The buck will always stop with me. I am the original founder, I am responsible for its biggest failures and successes - that’s why I will put myself forward and it may be that it has outgrown me.”






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