Will Kernan will bring “an interesting pedigree” to his new role as River Island CEO, industry experts have told Drapers, praising his management skills and previous track record as chief executive of The White Company.
“At The White Company, Will brought a lot of discipline and structure to a business that was very creative driven up until then,” said managing partner at headhunter Clarity Search Fran Minogue.
“He’s got a very interesting pedigree with a great background in finance, operations and international.”
Kernan has a respected professional history and, Drapers understands, was a considered choice following an 18-month recruitment search by River Island owners the Lewis family. He led The White Company for five years until 2017, when he joined online sportswear specialist Wiggle as chief executive. Before that he spent 13 years at New Look, joining as group finance director in 1999 and leaving the retailer as chief operating officer in 2010.
He’s known for running a successful and fair ship, and for getting businesses in good shape
Mary Anderson-Ford, managing director of recruiter Aqua Retail
“He’s known for running a successful and fair ship, and for getting businesses in good shape,” agreed Mary Anderson-Ford, managing director of recruiter Aqua Retail.
“It’s a great appointment with his finance background and with a broad range of experience across both stores and online. He’s got extensive experience across a range of businesses and he’s known in the industry as being a good guy.”
Kernan will replace incumbent River Island CEO of nine years Ben Lewis, who will remain on the board as non-executive director. Although experts agreed that the retailer is in a strong position, Shelley Pinto, managing director of TRP Recruitment, highlighted that fresh management could sharpen its focus.
“When you get new management, you get new direction and it can be motivational for the team if the figurehead has come from a successful business like Kernan has. The White Company is a great brand – they’ve really ‘got’ their market, and the expertise Will brings from there can help River Island concentrate on what its key market is.”
It can be motivational for the team if the figurehead has come from a successful business like Kernan has
Shelley Pinto, managing director of TRP Recruitment
Retail analyst Richard Hyman agreed that the external appointment to the family business would strengthen its offering: “River Island is a very good business and most of what it does is done in a very effective way – but not all. Kernan will provide intelligent challenge throughout the business. Will has got great experience both of clothing and of branding, and is a good, strategic creative thinker.”
Minogue added: “He’s not a product expert – and doesn’t profess to be – but he has an affinity for it, and knows how to work with creative people. Together with [River Island chief customer officer] Sean Hastings, there is now a good team working together to consider the proposition and how to drive the business forward.
“What all fashion retailers need to think about is how to optimise the online and offline relationships, and Kernan will be very good at that.”