Mike Ashley, chief executive of Frasers Group, has issued a public apology after a spat with the government over trying to keep his Sports Direct stores open when non-essential businesses were ordered to close.
In an open letter to all employees he said: “In hindsight, our emails to the government were ill-judged and poorly timed, when they clearly had much greater pressures than ours to deal with.”
He added: “On top of this, our communications to our employees and the public were poor.”
The retailer had intended for Sports Direct to remain open on the basis that selling sporting and fitness equipment made the company a vital asset as people are now obliged to stay at home.
Drapers understands some Frasers Group workers were ordered to report to work on Tuesday, the day after the ordered lockdown.
Ashley has now said: “Our intentions were only to seek clarity from the government as to whether we should keep some of our stores open – we would never have acted against their advice.
”I strongly encourage everyone to follow the government’s advice, stay safe and healthy through these challenging times, not least my employees”.
He gave particular thanks to his employees in the letter: “I would especially like to thank my Frasers Group employees, who have stood by the business in difficult times before and are doing so again currently.
“We are working very hard to save our business so that we can continue to be one of the biggest employers on the UK high street once the pandemic has passed.”
Frasers Group has now offered support to the NHS. This includes an initial offering of its fleet of lorries to travel around the UK delivering supplies.
“There has been no dress rehearsal for what we as a nation are currently tackling, and I for one am immensely proud of how our government, our NHS and all of our key workers have handled the situation so far.
“I am deeply apologetic about the misunderstandings of the last few days. We will learn from this and will try not to make the same mistakes in the future.”