Industry sources have questioned the future of Arcadia Group after its “henchman” David Shepherd decided to step down as chief operating officer, marking the end of the position at the business.
Yesterday it was announced that Shepherd has left the business, after more than 25 years at the company. The 55-year-old, who was formerly brand director of Topman for more than 13 years, decided to take early retirement, Drapers understands. The group will not replace his role.
As COO, Shepherd was responsible for driving international operations, group sourcing and supply chain. Several Arcadia suppliers close to Shepherd told Drapers they were sad to hear of his departure, and praised him for his efforts.
“It is sad to hear that Shepherd has retired,” one Arcadia supplier said. “He has been with Topshop/Topman for a very long time – even starting out on the shop floor. He is an old-school tradesman and a good henchman, and he knew how to get things done.
“Unfortunately, his time and love were lost for a business that has been plundered over the last few years. He probably wants some time out of the CVA process, which is very exhausting for everybody.”
Another Arcadia supplier agreed: “When Shepherd took over at the helm of Topman all those years ago it was struggling for identity. He dragged it up to become the tour de force of the late 1990s and early noughties, tapping into lad culture by nurturing and trusting buying teams to deliver the message.
“Hopefully we will see Topman rise from the ashes, but it will need the same focus on relevance that was nailed to the mast so well back then. To once again be the go-to brand, it needs to inject some of that pin-sharp attitude back into it by focusing on the needs and buzz of Gen Z.
“In the meantime, [Shepherd] can put his feet up and look on with relief that his stint is over for now and pride that he left his mark. I hope we haven’t seen the last of him.”
Richard Hyman, independent retail analyst, said Shepherd’s decision to retire early adds to already-existing concerns about the future of the group: “Shepherd was of the Arcadia of years gone by. As a result of the company voluntary arrangement we’re going to see a lot of changes in personnel.
“The future of Arcadia has been up in the air for quite some time and Shepherd’s resignation is just the start of these unknown future changes.”
One chief executive of a high street retailer said: “There’s a lot going on at Arcadia – it’s a pretty turbulent time for them. The announcement of Shepherd’s departure adds to these concerns. Only time will tell if a retailer as big as Arcadia can function without a COO.”
Meanwhile, sources said the group’s decision to not replace Shepherd “strengthens” reports that Arcadia is planning to seperate its brands to sell them off.
Reports claim the company has already started “untangling shared functions such as human resources and IT”, following the approval of its seven CVAs in June and the withdrawal of legal challenges by two US landlords, Vornado and Caruso, against the CVAs last week. Arcadia has denied this.
One supplier said: “Arcadia is clearly making big changes. It is making enormous cutbacks on people in the organisation and if the rumours are true, it is also downsizing its business operations by splitting brands off to potentially sell them. As a result, there will not be an Arcadia Group and therefore will not need a group COO.”
The CEO of one high street retailer said: “It really all depends on what Philip Green decides to do next. If all the brands end up having separate operations and warehouses, then it makes sense for them not to move somebody in to that role because they won’t need a group COO.”
He added: “Whatever is going on, there must be method to the madness.”