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N Brown's new retail CEO to shake up product

N Brown Group’s new management team must focus on product and find a point of difference to secure its future in the market, industry insiders have told Drapers.

Last week a shake-up at N Brown Group brought Oasis managing director Sarah Welsh into the newly created role of retail CEO. Welsh will join the clothing and footwear retailer on 30 March and report directly to group CEO Steve Johnson.

Former Jigsaw Group buying and merchandising director Shailina Parti has joined N Brown as interim chief product officer until Welsh takes over. N Brown’s chief product and supply officer, Ralph Tucker, left earlier this month to join homeware firm The Cotswold Company as CEO.

Meanwhile, the group has appointed airline Aer Lingus CFO Rachel Izzard as group chief financial officer, following the resignation of incumbent Craig Lovelace to take up a new position. Her start date has not yet been confirmed, and Lovelace will continue with his responsibilities in the interim. 

Welsh will be responsible for all aspects of product, including buying, merchandising, design, fit, trading, sourcing and partnerships.

Johnson said her experience in “building strong and empowered teams to develop brand propositions” will further “improve and develop N Brown product”.

Recruitment experts agreed.

“Sarah Welsh at N Brown is a great hire”, James Hyde, director at FH Executive Search told Drapers. “They have a new overall CEO [Steve Johnson] and now want to make the business more product driven for the future – hence Sarah.”

Another headhunter said: “N Brown has a solid tech and finance team, but I think it’s also good to bring in a mix of retail and product because product across the group has gone off the boil a bit and it needs a fresh pair of eyes.

“They need a really clear strategy around product. They are playing in a really difficult, saturated market and need to work out what its point of difference is and what its sub-brands stand for.”

Nicola Wensley, partner at fashion headhunting firm Page Executive, said: “Steve Johnson has been clear that the strategic direction of the business is around its retail agenda, rather than financial services business. This structural change and focus support this strategy.”

She added: “The role has been created to lead a consistent, joined-up, forward-thinking approach to the business.

“In addition to having a good product and channel experience, Sarah is a sharp, pragmatic, straight-talking, results-orientated leader. Her track record and commercial drive will enable her to fill Ralph Tucker’s big boots successfully and drive the next stage of N Brown’s retail strategy.”

On 16 January N Brown Group issued a profit warning. The retail group, which owns Simply Be, Jacamo, Ambrose Wilson and JD Williams, now expects its full-year adjusted profit before tax to be in the range of £70m and £72m, down from the previous guidance of £78m to £84.1m. It blamed ”a highly promotional market, lower financial services revenue and accounting changes”.




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